There are two main reasons I chose to publish this study on BPC:
- To educate and provide a resource for readers as they look for post-docs and faculty positions. If one of your goals is to have a family, I think it is important to consider taking your brilliance somewhere that will support you. If having kids is not on your to-do list, I think these policies still speak volumes about the progressiveness of a university and the level of support they offer their employees in all aspects of their lives.
- To begin a conversation about paid parental leave, specifically in academia, but also in other sectors where STEM graduates work. Although parental leave is certainly coming into greater focus in the public conversation, there is often a lack of real data behind those words.
How did I approach looking at this?
There are 4,726 Title IV degree-granting institutions in the United States and a plethora of policies for different categories of employees. In an attempt to simplify this analysis, this study focuses on top tier research institutions, R1, as defined by the Carnegie Foundation. These universities teach a full range of baccalaureate programs, train doctoral students, place a high priority on research, and receive more than $40 million annually in federal support. (These are the big kahunas! And, arguably, leaders in academia.)
As I started researching paid parental leave policies, I learned a lot and to provide as complete, clear, and fair an analysis as possible, I made the following decisions:
- I collected data for maternity, paternity, and adoption leave separately for faculty and staff, as defined by the guidelines outlined by each institution. (I.e. if a university considered teaching-only professors as faculty, I counted them as faculty.)
- The data in this article was compiled from parental leave policy sections of university websites and faculty handbooks publicly available at each university.
- Sick days and vacation time are not included in these estimates due to the large variations between different employees and lack of specific information on these policies in the public domain.
- I calculated weeks of full paid leave. If a university offers 50% pay for 4 weeks, this is equal to 2 full weeks of paid leave.
Overall, I learned that parental leave policies are often incredibly complicated and the data shown here were chosen to represent what the majority of employees at a university will experience. However, there are caveats and exceptions to these data. For your specific situation, it is important to speak to your Human Resources contact.
What do parental leaves typically look like at US universities?
All US employers, including universities, are required to adhere to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. This act provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave for qualifying family and medical incidents, including the birth or adoption of a child. However, employers are not required by law to provide anything beyond this leave. In many cases, employees must use sick, personal, and vacation days to cover parental leave time to recover from pregnancy and care for their child.
The great news is that many universities do provide some form of paid leave, whether this be through state-wide programs, university-funded insurance, or departmental-level plans. However, these leaves vary wildly between maternity/paternity/adoption leave, category of employee, type of university, and university location. And, sometimes the policies are very challenging to find and understand. I think that more universities should take a page out of Ohio State’s book for clarity of policies. OSU clearly states the policies for different categories of employees and gives examples of how different types of leave can be applied in different situations. This prevents employees from misunderstanding policies and over or underestimating the time and pay to which they are entitled.
Figure 1. Faculty vs. staff paid parental leave for maternity, paternity, and adoption leave. Expressed in average weeks of paid leave ± standard deviation in weeks.
Do faculty and staff receive the same benefits?
Absolutely not. Across categories, faculty receive more paid parental leave than staff. However, this is most apparent when looking at paternity and adoption leave—with new biological fathers and adoptive parents receiving an average of 5.6 weeks of paid leave if they are faculty and 1.6 weeks if they are staff.
There are certainly some logistical aspects to this. It is much more complicated to replace a faculty member (who may be teaching a class or supervising students) for a period of only 2 weeks. It is logistically simpler to either give the faculty the entire semester off or no leave at all. And this is what universities generally do. I found that some provide 12-16 weeks of paid leave for faculty or none at all. If no paid parental leave is given, the faculty member can use personal or vacation leave to cover days off and can apply for a modification of their duties, i.e. a pass on teaching for the semester, while still being held responsible for mentoring students and producing scholarly work.
In addition to logistics, I think there is certainly some prestige and bargaining power at play here as well. Faculty have a strong voice at many universities, particularly at top-tier research institutions where they are bringing in millions of dollars through grants, and can more easily organize through means such as Faculty Senates.
Does public versus private matter?
Yes, and no. I originally thought that this might be a big factor in determining if a university could support a paid parental leave program. While the average private university does offer approximately 1-2 weeks more paid parental leave compared to a public university, the differences are not statistically significant, driven primarily by the large variation in what universities offer in both categories. The one striking difference is in maternity leave for staff at private versus public institutions, with private offering an average of 6.4 weeks leave and public offering an average of 3.4 weeks. I found this to be a function of strong short-term disability leave policies that are available to the majority of staff members at private schools. These policies typically guarantee six weeks of salary replacement for uncomplicated pregnancies and eight weeks for cesarean sections and other complications.
Figure 2. Paid parental leave at public vs. private institutions.
The western region of the United States offers some of the most consistently generous policies between categories (faculty vs. staff and maternity/paternity/adoption leaves), likely buoyed by California state policy. In 2002, California was the first state to offer paid parental leave for employees, offering up to six weeks of leave at 55% of a worker's salary.
The northeast region leads the country in maternity leave for both faculty and staff. Due to the high density of private universities in this region, maternity leave benefits are higher in part due to short-term disability leave policies that universities offer their employees. But, frankly, I was kind of shocked at the relatively poor paternity and adoption paid parental leave policies in this region. For such a liberal area of the country, these universities did not offer the benefits I expected.
The southeast region of the US was particularly interesting with a surprising difference between faculty and staff policies. While the average faculty paid leave is on par with the other regions of the US, the staff policies are pretty abysmal, with an average of less than one week of paid leave for paternity and adoption leave. Most staff parental leave policies in this region require employees to use accrued sick time and personal leave to cover parental leave and when these days run out, they can go unpaid or return to work. Some schools have an extended sick leave policy where you can take additional days and “pay them back” over time.
Similar to the southeast, the southwest region also has an intense contrast between faculty and staff leaves. However, the southwest has the fewest R1 institutions of the five regions studied, resulting in a pretty small sample size for this region.
The midwest region offers, overall, the least amount of paid parental leave. While there are several universities in this region with generous policies, there are far more that give no paid leave what-so-ever. The midwest, southeast, and west each have six or more universities that offer zero weeks of paid parental leave (as can be seen in the distribution plots in Figure 4). It’s pretty disappointing.
How do these findings fit into the larger (i.e. international) context?
I knew going into this analysis that the US was not a world leader in paid parental leave. But I thought it was worth showing how the US actually differs. I started by looking into a few other universities where I have studied to see what their policies are: Imperial College and TU Dresden. Both universities offer 52 weeks of paid parental leave to the birth mother, 2 weeks of paternity leave, and 52 weeks of adoption leave for the primary care-giver (male or female). However, it should be noted that these universities are located in countries with generous national parental leave policies (the UK and Germany), which likely impacts the policy decisions of these institutions. In fact, all the universities I listed here are in countries with some type of paid parental leave policies, which is either matched or surpassed by the university listed in the figure below. Interestingly, all of the international institutions I looked into provide longer periods of maternity leave by a factor of 2-8 times that of the average US university. However, the average R1 university offers paternity leave comparable to the international community. (Yay! I guess?) Baby steps.
Figure 5. Paid parental leave in the international community.
But I love my job/are you crazy? Why would I ever take 52 weeks off?
This is definitely something that crossed my mind. But, the great news is… you don’t have to! These policies are about having the option and safety net if you need or want it. As I researched this topic, I learned a lot about reasons why having flexible policies is super important.
If you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, easy delivery, healthy baby, great support system at home, disposable income to pay for all of this new stuff, and ability to maintain your research on 1-5 hours of sleep per night, then that’s great! But things don’t come together like that for most people and therefore it is critical to have policies that support employees through transitions so they can return to their work as healthy and focused as possible.
Clearly, the issue of paid parental leave is complicated, particularly for small businesses that cannot afford to pay an employee for a year and hire a new employee to cover those duties. But, I think that R1 research institutions are in the unique position of having disposable funds and visibility to take the lead on this issue. Although many institutions offer fair tenure clock-stoppage policies and 6 months to one year of unpaid parental leave policies, one of the critical components to people being able to actually take advantage of this time is to have the continued income to do so.
Next week, we will be providing the full data set that I collected for your perusing pleasure. We hope that it is both interesting and helpful. And if you are a university administrator or employee who has dealt directly with these programs, we welcome any and all corrections or clarifications to our findings and will update our data set accordingly.