Rallying point

In the United States, we continuously hear that families are the backbone of our society. Is this ­really true? Do our policies and laws really reflect our cultural values?

In comparing our work-family policies to those of other industrialized nations — specifically, Germany, Italy and Sweden — Caitlyn Collins, assistant professor of sociology, identifies a chasm between the U.S. and Europe in support for ­mothers, fathers and children.

“We talk about families being the most valuable part of our lives, the part that gives us ­meaning, hope, fulfillment in ways that we don’t get from anywhere else,” Collins says. ­“However, this rhetoric is not backed up with policies or laws that enable families the time and resources necessary to take care of one another — especially those families who most need support.”

Take Sweden, for example. After having a child, couples receive 480 days of paid leave. “And the government even offers a gender ­equality bonus for parents who split the parental leave time equally,” Collins says. “It’s literally a cash incentive to get men to take more leave.” Gender equality is a cornerstone of Swedish ­society. It’s built into their welfare law.

Can you even imagine that here in the U.S.?

“The United States is one of only two countries on the planet that doesn’t mandate  maternity leave,” ­Collins says. “We have no ­universal ­child-care ­system; we have no  minimum ­standard for ­vacation and sick days, with disastrous ­consequences on families, especially on the ­working mothers whom I interviewed.”

How might Americans modernize our ­cultural attitudes around breadwinning and  caregiving? How might we develop the ­political will to implement policies that would help ­mothers and fathers be happier and ­healthier, and by extension do better work? These are among the questions ­Collins ­addresses in her new book, Making ­Motherhood Work: How  Women Manage Careers and Caregiving, scheduled for release by Princeton ­University Press in January 2019.

Investigating complex issues of culture, policy and social­ inequality is precisely what sociologists are trained to do, and precisely why a sociology department was brought back to the ­university at this pivotal time in the country’s ­history, when inequality continues to rise.

This article originally appeared in Washington magazine. Continue reading by following this link.