Balance with care

Babies and Bosses - Reconciling Work and Family Life
Striking a balance between going to work and raising children is not just a concern for families. Getting the balance wrong reduces birth rates, labour supply and gender equity, and can even harm child development. It puts the shape of society in the future in question.
Since 2002, the OECD’s Babies and Bosses reviews have analysed policies and family outcomes in 13 OECD countries: Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Switzerland, Canada, Finland, Sweden and the UK. This synthesis report concerns all OECD countries, examining work and family outcomes in view of tax/benefit policies, parental leave systems, child and out-of-school-hours care support, and workplace practices.The messages are quite clear. Infants do best with full-time personal care for the first six to twelve months of their lives. Yet, according to some evidence, when parents spend more than six months looking after their young children, their career prospects are damaged.However, Babies and Bosses found that if parental leave is designed to encourage both parents to take leave in succession, babies can get the care they require without harming the careers of their parents. This is the case in Iceland where fathers use about a third of the nine months of paid parental leave in a country where the female participation rate in the labour market is above average.The absence of affordable, formal childcare can be a major barrier to parental employment. Moreover, children benefit from good quality day care from the age of two to three onwards. Babies and Bosses also found that most OECD countries should afford greater attention to developing out-of-school-hours care for older children.The most common types of family-friendly work practices are part-time work, flexible working times, granting days to care for sick children, and employer-provided parental leave support, but in most countries workplaces are not particularly responsive to the needs of parents with young children. Even if a country offers good social supports such as child care facilities and leave programmes, if the labour market discriminates against parents, then balancing work and family life will remain a delicate act. ISBN: 9789264032446©OECD Observer No 263, October 2007

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