The impact of paid parental leave on gender equity in New Zealand: case studies
Thesis DisciplinePolitical Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
There are significant gendered patterns in New Zealand’s labour market. For example, there is a persistent gender pay gap, and New Zealand mothers participate less in the formal labour market than women without children (NACEW, 2015). Advocates of paid parental leave argue that adequate paid leave can help to redress this imbalance, by protecting parents’ jobs while they care for infants. However, critics of New Zealand’s paid parental leave scheme note its status as one of the most limited schemes in the OECD (OECD Family Database, 2015), largely due to a political background that frames the issue of parental leave narrowly in terms of child welfare and the interests of business, which may limit its potential impact on wider issues of gender equity in the workplace. This thesis examines this criticism of New Zealand’s parental leave scheme through the experiences of seven women, who were interviewed about how they and their families used paid parental leave, and the subsequent impact they feel it has had on their lives and careers. The participants were drawn from the human resources and insurance industries, and occupied a range of different roles. While this case study can only offer insight into a small group of professional women, it suggests that current New Zealand parental leave legislation is important, but not sufficient, in addressing gender equity issues in the labour market. While the current paid parental leave scheme did help the families interviewed, participants often still faced significant challenges in balancing paid work with family. Notably, the women interviewed reported that they still assumed the bulk of unpaid caregiving as a result of gendered social expectations surrounding parenting – a reality that incremental increases to parental leave may struggle to impact. They also considered other factors, such as a supportive and flexible workplace, to be as important to them when it came to successfully balancing career and family over time. Future reforms to paid parental leave would need to consider how best to address equity-related issues such as the lack of fathers taking parental leave, the inequities faced by women in low income and precarious work, and persistent gender-based expectations about parenting roles.