Culture Differences

“While Nordic citizens often don’t realize how good they have it, Americans seem not to realize how terribly they are being treated,” says Finnish journalist Anu Partanen who was surprised at the treatment of American parents after moving to New York.

Being a parent in America is especially difficult. With most parents receiving no help from the government or their employers it’s not surprising that American parents see a ‘happiness gap’ between them and their nonparent peers.

“A forthcoming study in The American Journal of Sociology finds that Americans with children are 12 percent less happy than non-parents, the largest “happiness gap” of 22 rich countries surveyed. The main sources of parents’ unhappiness are the lack of paid vacation and sick leave, and the high cost of child care, the authors said,” writes Pamela Druckerman in her New York Times article The Perpetual Panic of American Parenthood.

The study she refers to was led by Jennifer Glass, and University of Texas sociology professor. The study was comprised of two international surveys measuring ‘well-being’ and data from 22 developed countries. The conclusion of the study was that, of all international parents, American parents saw the most amount of stress and were less happy than nonparents. While some of the countries surveyed said that nonparents were happier, the gap wasn’t as significant as it is for America. Other countries had the roles reversed with parents being happier than nonparents.

The two largest factors for parent happiness are the cost of child care and the amount of paid sick days and vacation time parents received.

While it varies throughout European countries most parents do receive aid from their governments. In Denmark, France and Germany child care is subsidized by the government. Friederike Heine who writes for Spiegel Online, a German news site, wrote in his article Germany Promises Daycare for All, “Under the new rules, all parents with a child aged 12 months or older have the right to a slot in a daycare center. Previously, the rule applied only to parents with children aged three or older. It also provides any parent whose child is denied a slot with a legal provision to challenge the decision…”

Many European countries are concerned for their parents and investing in the future. Some countries even offer payments to parents to help them with the expenses of raising children. Druckerman writes, “Ukrainian dads may not change enough diapers, but their government offers paid maternity leave; practically free preschool; and per-baby payments equivalent to eight months of an average salary.”

American parents would appreciate that kind of attention according to a survey done by the Pew Research Center. Pew found that 62 percent of parents have difficulty finding affordable and high quality child care in their communities.

Along with public child care, many European countries offer long maternity and paternity leaves as well as significant vacation time.

Germany has a minimum of 24 vacation days a year for employees and an average of 35 days offered. France has a minimum of 30 vacation days with an average of 37 days offered to employees. And America has a minimum of 0 vacation days required by the government. But hey, at least there’s an average of 13 days offered. For information on more countries see Average Vacation Days by Country from vpcalendar.net.

It’s clear that in terms of family and work life balance America has some catching up to do. If there is more investment in parents and children the nation can only get better. Especially when these kinds of opportunities are offered to people of all socioeconomic classes.

There is a lot America can learn from other developed countries, not that they are all perfect. Every culture has its highs and lows, but if America looks at what works over there, there is no reason why it can’t work over here.

 

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