Opinion |

Paternity Leave? Greater Than the Industrial Revolution

Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler
Illustration: A father feeds a baby from a bottle.
Illustration: A father feeds a baby from a bottle.Credit: Anna Kraynova / Shutterstock.com
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

It’s been a long time since we have seen such broad smiles and such friendly support between two politicians from rival parties. It happened last week, when Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli of Labor held a press conference in which they bombastically announced the revolution that will reshape the face of Israeli society. This is a reform that will bring “gender equality … reduce wage gaps between men and women, strengthen the ties between fathers and infants … reshape the world of work and encourage the employment of mothers.” Amazing. Huge. Greater than both the industrial and the digital revolution combined.

But the truth is that this is over a minor change for which they constructed a huge backdrop: the granting of a two-week parental leave, at government expense – to fathers. That’s all. But when the election is glittering on the horizon, Lieberman and Michaeli won’t miss an opportunity to flaunt a benefit to the electorate, in the hope of being rewarded at the polling booth.

So first of all, this is only a promise. In order for it to be implemented, the government has to pass the 2023 budget in the Knesset, and that’s not at all simple. Look how far Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana went, when he gave up his position and returned to the Knesset, only in order to prevent MK Yomtob Kalfon from potentially leaving the coalition.

Second, in order for the father to be able to receive his two-week vacation, the mother must return to work immediately at the conclusion of her paid maternity leave, in other words, after 15 weeks. That would place considerable pressure on the mother, which is not necessarily the right thing to do. In addition, it’s something of an exaggeration to claim that these two weeks will bring about gender equality and deepen the father's connection with the infant; after all, it’s only 14 days.

The economic promise of this move – reducing wage gaps between women and men – is also just propaganda. The wage gaps are not caused by maternity leave. Various interested parties mention wage gaps of 32 percent, which sounds terrible, but it’s a distortion of the truth. Studies reveal (what we all actually know) that far more women than men work at part-time jobs. Even when they work in full-time positions they work far fewer hours than men. This large difference in work hours explains 17 percent of the 32-percent disparity.

Another explanation is the branch of employment. Men tend to work in industries with a high salary, such as engineering, industry, technology, computers and high-tech. Women tend more to work in low-wage professions such as education, social work and secretarial work. Women constitute only 25 percent of all the high-tech engineers in Israel. This difference in professions explains another 9 percent of the gap.

In that case, we are left with an unexplained remainder of 6 percent. There are some who explain this gap with a variety of reasons such as women’s tendency to negotiate less about their salary, and differences in seniority and experience. I estimate that the entire 6 percent stems from unacceptable discrimination and prejudice, but this is discrimination of 6 percent rather than 32 percent, and that’s all the difference in the world.

Wage gaps, which have absolutely no connection to maternity leave, should be addressed with force. We have to change education from birth, and to carry on with that in preschools, kindergartens, schools and of course at home. The change in education must empower women, reinforce their self-confidence, and channel them to the more lucrative professions and to management positions. We must also encourage them to take full-time rather than part-time jobs. This change must be accompanied by achieving equality in the division of labor at home, including raising the children, of course.

We are in a period in which the forecast of an election is driving politicians crazy. Recently we received a half-shekel discount on the price of gas, a cut in electricity prices, free public transportation for pensioners, subsidies for dental care for the elderly, assistance to the self-employed, additional income tax credit points and a lottery for discounted apartments. The two-week leave for men is another slice of the same overly sweet pie: election economics.

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