Globalization: Children and working parents pay too high a price

New book is called Forgotten Families

Montreal, Quebec -- What do a Baltimore nurse, a Honduran sweatshop worker, and a Vietnamese shoe factory laborer have in common? If they are parents, they all have to balance the often impossible demands of earning a living with those of raising healthy, cared-for children.

Dr. Jody Heymann, founder of the Harvard-based Project on Global Working Families and Director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy and Adjunct Associate Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, has produced a groundbreaking study devoted to understanding how globalization is affecting working families around the world.

The Project on Global Working Families at Harvard was the first program devoted to understanding and improving the relationship between working conditions and family health and well-being throughout the world. From that research comes the new book Forgotten Families (Oxford University Press), which reports new findings from analysis of surveys of 55,000 people from around the world with over 1,000 in-depth interviews of families and policy-level data on over 160 nations. An unprecedented window on the impact of globalization on families, Forgotten Families describes in vivid detail startlingly common shared experiences from Botswana to Vietnam to the United States and for the first time connects the dots on what were thought to be local problems but which, if left unaddressed, could threaten global economic sustainability.

Heymann's research reveals the difficult truth that parents in Baltimore are more likely to leave their children home alone sick all day than parents in Vietnam, which has a progressive parental leave policy. Globally, this lack of support for working families not only dramatically affects the world's children, it exacerbates gender and income inequalities.

According to Senator Edward Kennedy, this research "builds a powerful case for global action on decent working conditions and basic social support for families as the cornerstone of continued economic and social progress. Heymann has sounded a wake-up call for leaders, policymakers and citizens everywhere."

Key Findings

  • An estimated 930 million children under age 15 are being raised in households where all of the adults work.

  • 36 percent of the families interviewed had left a young child home alone. Thirty-nine percent had left a sick child home alone or had to send a child to school or day care sick. Twenty-seven percent had left a child in the care of a paid or unpaid child.

  • 67 percent of parents with income under $10 a day have had to choose between losing pay and leaving sick children home alone.

  • In 66 percent of the families where parents had to leave children home alone or with an unpaid child, the children suffered accidents or other emergencies.

  • In 35 percent of the same cases, the children had suffered from developmental or behavioral problems.

  • 23 percent of parents interviewed took children to work, often under unsafe conditions.

  • 51 percent of the parents interviewed who worked in the informal sector needed to bring their children to work regularly.

  • Parents who had access to formal childcare were the least likely to have left a child home alone sick. Six percent of those who used formal childcare had left their child home alone sick compared to 22 percent of those who only used informal care.

  • 76 percent of parents of children with chronic conditions had difficulty at work or had lost pay, jobs, or promotions because of caring for them.

  • 49 percent of women had lost pay or job promotions or had difficulty retaining jobs because of the need to care for sick children compared to 28 percent of men.

  • 55 percent of parents with high school or more education sent their children to formal childcare, compared to 28 percent of parents with middle school or less education.

  • Working conditions that allowed parents to take leave from work either due to paid leave or flexibility halved the risk of parents having to leave children home alone sick. Fifteen percent of parents who had either flexibility or paid leave for childcaring had to leave children home alone sick, compared to 29 percent of parents who had neither paid leave nor flexibility.

Marian Wright Edelman, CEO and Founder of the Children's Defense Fund, calls this series of studies "a powerful and overdue wake-up call about the enormous challenges and awful choices working families around the world face. We can and must do better for all of our children."

Forgotten Families goes further than documenting problems; this new study sheds light on what can be done to find solutions and take advantage of the opportunities for families, businesses and nations - created by globalization. Highlighting lessons from countries that have -- with far fewer resources than the United States -- implemented policies to improve conditions for working families, Forgotten Families asserts that only by embracing solutions that are truly global can we improve the lives of working families everywhere.

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On the Web: About Forgotten Families: www.mcgill.ca/ihsp/publications/

Contacts:
McGill University
805 Sherbrooke St. W.
Montreal, Quebec.
H3A 2K6
Lisa Van Dusen
lisa.vandusen@mcgill.ca
(514) 398-6752

Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Christina Roache
croache@hsph.harvard.edu
(617) 432-6052

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jody Heymann, M.D, Ph.D., is the founder of the Project on Global Working Families and has been on the faculty at Harvard University for a decade. She currently holds a Canada Research Chair in Global Health and Social Policy at McGill University. She is a Professor in the faculty of Medicine and Arts at McGill, and founding director of the McGill University-wide Institute on Health and Social Policy.

About McGill University
Founded in 1821, McGill University is Canada's leading research-intensive university. McGill has 21 faculties and professional schools, offering more than 300 programs from the undergraduate to the doctoral level. There are approximately 23,000 undergraduate students and 7,000 graduate students at McGill's two campuses in Montreal, Canada. McGill is a member of the American Association of Universities.

About Harvard School of Public Health
Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public's health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 300 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 900-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children's health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information on the school visit: www.hsph.harvard.edu


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