June 08, 2015
News /
Posted by NCID

Four extra months of maternity leave have a significant effect on the education and income of children when they become adults. This effect is especially noticeable with the most marginalized families: it causes a 5% reduction in dropout rates and increased average income by 8%.

So states Pedro Carneiro of University College London, who presented at the fourth annual Development Week conference of the Navarra Center for International Development of the University of Navarra.

His study compared Norwegian children born within one month of each other: between June 1st of 1977 and July 1st, 1977. Beginning with the latter date, Norway introduced a new maternity leave law allowing mothers to have four months of paid leave and another 12 of unpaid leave. 

Carneiro says, however, that the effect will not necessarily increase if you continue to add “more and more months” of maternity leave. A similar study in Germany, he mentioned, had barely noticeable effects “because allotted leave was already optimal.”

He stressed that the children who benefited the most were from the most disadvantaged families, that otherwise had to return to work for financial reasons. “Yet this is only one dimension of many. Health, education, and many other things also affect this,” he said. 

The importance of the first five years in personal development

Professor Carneiro emphasized the importance of early childhood (between the first and fifth years of live) on future development, both with respect to intelligence or other faculties like social behavior, predisposition for violent behavior, emotional control or patience. “Keeping in mind the weight of our past experiences, early childhood is the foundation of our life,” he said.

In relation to that fact, he emphasizes the potential negative consequences that can happen to a child during this stage if it experiences hunger, malnutrition, social exclusion, or domestic violence during early childhood.

To avoid said consequences, he highlighted the benefits of family support programs with a system of home visits by social workers, even before birth. These approaches, he explained, have been successfully used in countries like Jamaica, Colombia, and the United States. Carneiro also mentioned other proposals, like promoting parenting courses at the community level. 

He cited the importance of parents and the family environment in the learning and development of children, especially in life skills, even more so than academic results.

Regarding the role of schools, he noted that they also can collaborate with parents through initiatives like mentorship programs, wherein mentors carry out the task of guidance and non-formal education of youth, allowing them to acquire skills in the future that “will be fundamental in their professional and social lives.”