Academic journal article Family Relations

Maternity Leave in Taiwan

Academic journal article Family Relations

Maternity Leave in Taiwan

Article excerpt

Using the first nationally representative birth cohort study in Taiwan, this paper examines the role that maternity leave policy in Taiwan plays in the timing of mothers returning to work after giving birth, as well as the extent to which this timing is linked to the amount of time mothers spend with their children and their use of breast milk versus formula. We found that the time when mothers returned to work coincided with the duration of guaranteed leave. In particular, mothers with a labor pension plan resumed work significantly earlier than mothers with no pension plan, and mothers with no pension plan returned to work significantly later than those with pension plans. The short leave of absence guaranteed under existing policies translated into mothers spending less time with their children and being more likely to exclusively use formula by 6 months after birth. In contrast, mothers who resumed work later than 6 months after birth were more likely to have not worked before birth or to have quit their jobs during pregnancy. Implications and recommendations for parental leave policy in Taiwan are discussed.

Key Words: breast-feeding, maternity leave policy, parental leave policy, Taiwan.

Investing time and resources in the first few years of a child's life has been widely acknowledged to promote children's health and wellness, which in turn has important implications for later success in school and the workplace (Heckman, 2006). Traditional social expectations dictate that women take on most, if not all, child-care responsibilities (Smolensky & Gootman, 2003). In recent decades, the tremendous increase in female labor force participation, particularly among mothers with very young children, has raised concern about whether and in what ways maternal absence during children's first years of life may compromise their well-being (Smolensky & Gootman).

This paper focuses on a policy that has great implications for working parents and for child well-being: parental leave policy. (The terminology used to describe various types of leave policy across countries varies widely; thus, throughout this paper we use "parental leave" as an umbrella term that includes leaves for maternity, pregnancy, paternity, birth, adoption, and longer-term care of young children.) We investigated such a policy in Taiwan, a country not considered on par economically with OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries like Japan, but which has played a significant economic role in the East Asian region over the past 40 years. In this paper, we provide the first ever evidence of how public policies in Taiwan correspond to mothers' employment, time spent with their children, and the use of breast milk versus formula after birth. We used data from the first nationally representative birth cohort study in Taiwan, the Taiwan Birth Cohort Study (TBCS), which includes detailed information on the employment of mothers, gathered during interviews at 6 months and then again at 18 months after birth.

Our study adds to the international body of literature on mothers' labor activity during their children's first months of life by examining parental leave policy in the context of an East Asian welfare regime. An essential element of the productivist welfare capitalism that characterizes East Asia's welfare systems is the subordination of social policy to the overriding policy objective of economic growth (Holliday, 2000) - a policy stance for which Taiwan is no exception. Within this policy context, Taiwan's parental leave policy is striking in its aim to allow modern families to balance their work and family demands. A policy with such progressive goals has two important consequences. One is the possibility that Taiwan could move away from a system in which welfare policy is subordinate to economic productivity and toward a social policy that has been widely adopted in European countries since the 1970s. …

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