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Cons of a Working Mom: Sick Children and Work


Working Mother Magazine recently conducted a survey and found that one of the cons of a working mom is being faced with the choice of missing work and staying home with a sick child, or sending the ill child to school or daycare. The survey reports that one in three mothers have sent their sick child to childcare or school. In an earlier column, I touched on the proposed paid sick leave law sponsored by Sen. Christopher Dodd which would provide 6 paid weeks, out of the 12 unpaid weeks that FMLA currently mandates for certain employers.

Until that paid sick leave law (or one like it) passes, choosing between caring for a sick child or going to work will continue to be a one of the cons of a working mom (as echoed by our very own Job Mom). Of the working moms surveyed by Working Mother Magazine, 70% felt guilty for sending their child to school or daycare while ill, 48.5% felt stressed and 31.2% felt frustrated. Almost 65% of the moms said that when one family member gets sick, other family members are likely to follow. There was one bright spot, 54% say they have some flexibility to work from home.

How much work could you miss if your child got sick?  Estimate the cost with our salary survey.

Statistics on Working Mothers

A 2004 analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported that close to 59 million workers do not have paid sick days. That means working moms may have to send their ill children off to school, and that moms may have to go to work sick (and possibly contagious). Some get time off work without pay (under FMLA), but cannot afford to miss a paycheck. Without the protection of FMLA, moms who do not go to work, risk being fired while taking sick days.

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In 2003, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the lack of paid sick days affects working women more severely than others. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 49% of working mothers said that they miss work when their child is sick, compared to 30% of men. Another downside was that 50% of working mothers did not get paid time off when they were caring for a sick child; these statistics on working mothers are mentioned at

Stats on Families with Working Mothers

In more bad news for American moms, the World Economic Forum found that the U.S. was the only one of the 20 most competitive economies in the world that did not require companies to provide paid sick days. A recent study by Harvard and McGill University reports that the U.S. falls behind almost all wealthy countries when it comes to paid sick days, supportive breast-feeding policies and maternity leave.

Global stats on families with working mothers do not get much better, according to When it comes to maternity leave, the Harvard and McGill University study says the U.S. is one of only five countries (with Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea) which don’t mandate a form of paid leave for women. That is out of 173 countries surveyed.

Working Mothers and Children Around the World

Jody Heymann, founder of the Harvard-based Project on Global Working Families and the lead author of the Harvard and McGill University study, says, “More countries are providing the workplace protections that millions of Americans can only dream of.” As reported on here is more global research on working mothers and children and dads:

  • Fathers have paid paternity leave (or paid parental leave) in 65 countries. 31 nations offer at least 14 weeks of paid leave. The U.S. does not guarantee fathers any paid leave.
  • 107 countries protect a working woman’s right to breast-feed. Breaks to breast-feed are paid in at least 73 nations. There is no federal law in the U.S. that guarantees the right to breast-feed at work.
  • 145 countries provide paid sick days. 127 nations provide a week or more (annually). As I mentioned earlier, the U.S. provides unpaid leave (12 weeks) through FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act), but this law does not cover all workers. There is no U.S. federal law providing for paid sick days.
  • 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the workweek. There is no maximum workweek length in the U.S., or any limit on overtime per week.

It’s not all bad news. According to the Harvard and McGill University study, the U.S. does do well in higher pay for overtime work and mandating the right to work for all racial and ethnic groups. However, when it comes working moms, it would appear that we have a long way to go.

Time vs. Money: Which Do You Choose?

It is interesting to think about the cost of not getting, e.g., 2 1/2 weeks of paid sick leave per year. As long as you are not fired for missing work, that is the same as taking a 5% pay cut (2 1/2 weeks out of a 52-week work year). While that 5% can be important to families living on the edge of poverty, everyone else can find a way to economize 5% of their annual expenses, if they want.

The differences between America and other countries listed above go to how American’s value time vs. money. When I lived in France, the cultural distinctions were obvious. In France, it is illegal for anyone – including a professional salaried employee – to work more than 35 hours a week.  Six weeks of vacation a year were also common.

My French colleagues worked hard, just not long. They would not sacrifice time with their family and for themselves for work. What they gave up was stuff – the average French family does not have the cars and houses Americans do – in exchange for more free time.

This trade-off is not one currently considered in America: just try to get 3 weeks more vacation for 6% less pay in your next salary negotiation 🙂

How does your salary – and paid leave – measure up?  Find out with our salary survey.


Dr. Al Lee

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