Paid parental leave and gender norms in the United States and Australia

Presenter/s: Professor Deborah Widiss, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

Event type: Public lecture

Event date: Wednesday, 16 May 2018 - 2:30pm to 4:00pm

Event venue: Theatrette (2.02), Sir Roland Wilson Building #120, 120 McCoy Circuit, ANU

In both the United States and Australia, women provide the bulk of care for infants, establishing patterns that may have ongoing effects on how mothers (and fathers) balance work and care obligations throughout the childrearing years. This project, which is part of my research as a Fulbright Senior Scholar, compares and contrasts recently-enacted paid parental leave (PPL) schemes in the United States and Australia to assess the extent to which different structures may perpetuate gendered divisions of family labor. Each parental leave scheme is nominally gender-neutral, but they take very different approaches to the expectation that women typically provide newborn care. (Although the U.S. lacks a national policy, a growing number of U.S states have enacted paid leave.) Australia’s PPL provides 18 weeks of pay to the “primary carer” for a newborn; the primary carer may transfer some or all of these weeks to a partner. In most instances, the birth mother takes this full leave without transferring any portion. The law also includes two separate weeks of “dad or partner pay,” which has helped normalise at least a short parental leave for fathers. U.S jurisdictions, by contrast, provide each parent an identical leave, ranging from 4-12 weeks, with no possibility of transfer. Under this scheme, women take more and longer leaves than men, but men’s leave-taking rates are steadily rising. This project probes the pros and cons of the varying structures and the role that each may play in reifying or disrupting gender norms around care work more generally. It also suggests that research on how same-sex couples share parental leave could help disentangle the effects of the legal framework employed from gender norms. This presentation will explore theoretical questions for future empirical research, and it will report early findings from semi-structured interviews I am conducting with stakeholders involved in implementation of the PPL program. ​

About the speaker:

Deborah Widiss is a Professor of Law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law (United States), and a visiting scholar at the University of Melbourne Law School. She received a Fulbright Senior Scholar grant to conduct research on Australia's paid parental leave policy and other legal supports for employees with family responsibilities. Her research has appeared in leading U.S. and international journals. She has received several awards for her scholarship, including the Association of American Law Schools Outstanding Scholarly Paper Award. Professor Widiss has been consulted as an expert on the subjects she studies by numerous U.S. media outlets, including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Washington Post. Professor Widiss received a J.D. and a B.A. from Yale University.

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