IWPR Commemorates the 50th Anniversary of President Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women Report

by Jessica Milli, Ph.D.

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of 1963’s American Women: Report of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor sponsored a series of Scholars’ Papers. As part of this effort, IWPR prepared papers on parental leave and on occupational segregation and the wage gap.

Paid Parental Leave in the United States reviews research and data sources on paid leave for family related purposes. Despite the recommendation in the 1963 report that paid maternity leave be pro­vided for female workers, it took another thirty years’ for the passage of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) to provide at least unpaid job protected maternity and paternity leave. Due to the structure of the FMLA, as of 2012, only 59 percent of workers were eli­gible for FMLA leave. With the exception of a few states with more generous family leave policies, FMLA leave is unpaid, and many families cannot afford to use it as much as they would like.

The IWPR paper also details previous research on the economic and health benefits of paid family leave. Paid family leave can improve the labor force at­tachment of workers, improve employee morale and productivity, reduce worker turnover, and positively impact economic growth. Such benefits to firms may help offset the costs of implementing paid leave policies. Research further suggests that expanding paid leave is likely to have economy-wide benefits such as reduced spending on public assistance programs and increased labor force participa­tion. Access to leave, whether it is paid or not, can increase breastfeeding rates and duration, reduce the risk of infant mortality, and increase the likelihood of infants receiving well-baby care and vaccinations.

The paper also reviews federal data sources on paid and unpaid leave and highlights gaps and inconsistencies in the information avail­able. The paper argues for a more sys­tematic federal effort to improve the data infrastructure on this important benefit for working families.

Occupational Segregation and the Gender Wage Gap documents changes since the 1960s in the types of jobs that men and women perform and links those trends with recent lack of change in the gender wage gap. Women have made large strides toward equality in the labor force, including increasing their representation in occupations that have traditionally been dominated by men— such as management, accounting, and law. However, not all occupations have seen increased integration over the years, and many remain heavily male- or female-dominated. The paper docu­ments that progress has stalled, point­ing out that both progress in improving occupational integration and progress in closing the gender wage gap stalled at the beginning of the last decade. This relationship suggests that occupa­tional segregation should be a priority of policy efforts to address the wage gap, either by focusing on encourag­ing women to enter more integrated or male-dominated occupations, or by im­proving earnings in female-dominated occupations, or both.

The papers are available on the Women’s Bureau website and on IWPR’s website.

Jessica Milli, Ph.D. is an IWPR Senior Research Associate.

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