Research on Paid Family Leave

Project Publications

NCCP Research

  • Skinner, C. and Ochshorn, S. (2012). Building a competitive future right from the start: How paid leave strengthens 21st century families.
    This in-depth report provides a brief history of paid family leave policy and its impact of family and civic life.  It concludes with a set of recommendations – for policymakers, researchers, public health and early childhood stakeholders, business leaders, and federal, state, and local agencies – to guide work going forward.
  • Fass, S. (2009). Paid leave in the states: A critical support for low-wage workers and their families.
    This policy brief describes the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and examines the strengths and limitations of existing state-level policies, focusing on California. It concludes with recommendations for state policymakers considering paid family leave, with an emphasis on how these policies could be crafted to best serve the needs of low-wage workers and their families.
  • Skinner, C. and Ochshorn, S. (2012). Paid family leave: Strengthening families and our future.
    This policy brief looks at the effects of maternal employment and parental leave policies on child health, child cognitive and emotional development, maternal health, and the health of parental relationships. It highlights compelling new arguments that strengthen the case for paid family leave, and includes a set of research-based recommendations to advance policy

Additional Research

The literature below features scholarly journal articles, reports, and other publications examining the associations between family leave insurance and social, health, and economic outcomes. The list is updated frequently and is intended to link policymakers, advocates and the interested public to cutting-edge research in the field. While prioritizing work that focuses specifically on family leave insurance, the work referenced also includes some important studies in the much larger literature on maternal employment and child health and development outcomes.

The research is divided into three categories:

  • Family Leave Insurance and Early Childhood Development
  • Family Leave Insurance and Public Health
  • Family Leave Insurance and Family Economic Security

Early Childhood Development

There are still comparatively few studies investigating the relationship between family leave insurance and the development of young children, and findings from these studies are mixed. However, numerous studies have found a negative association between maternal employment and healthy child development. The positive cognitive and behavioral outcomes for children whose mothers postponed work or worked part-time during the first-year are well established. Hence, family leave insurance that permits mothers (and fathers) to spend more time bonding with their babies during this crucial developmental period is likely to be beneficial. Family leave insurance is also associated with longer duration of breastfeeding, which research suggests promotes bonding and attachment between mother and child and the neurological and psycho-social development of the infant. Some of the research looks specifically at how leave impacts a child in his or her first year of life, while other studies examine children who have reached school-age.

  • Aitken, Z., et al. (2015).The maternal health outcomes of paid maternity leave: A systematic review. Social Science & Medicine 130: 32-41.
    This systematic review of seven studies from Australia, Sweden, Norway, USA, Canada, and Lebanon provides evidence of maternal health benefits of paid maternity leave.
  • Baker, M. & Milligan, K.S. (2011). Maternity leave and children’s cognitive and behavioral development. NBER Working Paper 17105. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. 
    Longer maternity leave has no effect on measures of children’s cognitive and behavioral development at ages 4 and 5.
  • Brooks-Gunn, J., Han, W-J, & Waldfogel, J. (2010). First-year maternal employment and child development in the first seven years. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 75(2): 7-9.
    The associations between first-year maternal employment and later cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes are neutral because negative effects, when present, are offset by positive effects.
  • Brooks-Gunn, J., Han, W-J, & Waldfogel, J. (2002). Maternal employment and child cognitive outcomes in the first three years of life: The NICHD study of early child careChild Development 73(4): 1052-1072.
    Maternal employment of 30 hours or more per week during the first 9 months of a child’s life is negatively associated with child cognitive outcomes even after controlling for child care quality, the quality of the home environment, and maternal sensitivity.
  • Clark, R., et. al. (1997). Length of maternity leave and quality of mother-infant interactions. Child Development 68(2): 364-383.
    Shorter maternal employment leave is associated with negative affect and behavior in mother-infant interactions.
  • Coley, R.L. & Lombardi, C.M. (2013). Does maternal employment following childbirth support or inhibit low-income children’s long-term development? Child Development 84(1): 178-197.
  • Danzer, N. & Lavy, V. (2012). Parental leave and children’s schooling outcomes: Quasi-experimental evidence from a large parental leave reform. NBER Working Paper 19452.
    Austrian evidence suggests no significant overall impact of an extended parental leave mandate on standardized test scores at age 15; the subgroup of boys of highly educated mothers benefited from this reform while boys of low educated mothers were harmed by it.
  • Haeck, C. (2011). Increased maternity leave and children’s development measured at age 4 to 5: An empirical analysis. Discussion Paper, Kathlieke Universitet Leuven.
    Children aged 4 and 5 of Canadian mothers who took longer paid leave had positive cognitive outcomes.
  • Hill, J. L., Waldfogel, J., Brooks-Gunn, J. & Han, W-J. (2005). Maternal employment and child development: A fresh look using newer methods. Development Psychology 41(6): 833-850.
    Propensity score modeling and multiple imputation techniques reveal small but significant negative effects of maternal employment on children’s cognitive outcomes for full-time employment in the first year postbirth compared with employment postponed until after the first year.
  • Huang, R. & Yang, M.  (2015). Paid maternity leave and breastfeeding practice before and after California’s implementation of the nation’s first paid family leave program. Economics & Human Biology 16: 45-59.
    California’s paid family leave program could contribute to the increase in breastfeeding rates observed after PFL introduction.
  • Ruhm, C. J. (2004). Parental employment and child cognitive developmentJournal of Human Resources. 39(1): 155-192.
    Maternal employment during the first three years of a child’s life can negatively affect reading ability and math achievement by kindergarten.
  • Washbrook, E., Ruhm, C., Waldfogel, J., & Han, W-J. (2011). Public policies, women’s employment after childbirth, and child well-being. B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy 11(1), Article 43.
    More generous state maternity leave laws are not associated with positive child development at age 4.

Public Health

A significant amount of research has demonstrated the multiple health and developmental benefits of breastfeeding, which has been shown to increase substantially in duration when mothers take paid leave to spend more time with their young children. Breastfeeding appears to protect infants against a wide range of infections and other diseases and to reduce the risk of childhood obesity. Parental leave is associated with lower infant and child mortality, and delaying a mother’s return to work is associated with increases in child immunizations and well-baby doctor’s visits. Paid leave also allows parents to take better care of children with serious chronic illnesses and other special health care needs. For mothers, longer leave is associated with lower rates of depression, more complete physical recovery from childbirth, and greater physical and emotional well-being linked to breastfeeding.

  • Baker, M. & Milligan, K. (2008). Maternal employment, breastfeeding and health: Evidence from maternity leave mandatesJournal of Health Economics 27: 871-887.
    Longer maternity leave in Canada is associated with longer duration of breastfeeding, but is not significantly associated with self-reported indicators of depression and a range of post-partum physical and mental problems.
  • Berger, L.M., Hill, J. & Waldfogel, J. (2005). Maternity leave, early maternal employment and child health and development in the U.S. The Economic Journal115(501): F29-F47.
    Early maternal return to work after giving birth is associated with reductions in immunizations, well-baby doctors’ visits, and breastfeeding.
  • Bischoff, R; & Chavkin, W. (2008). The relationship between work-family benefits and maternal, infant and reproductive health: Public health implications and policy recommendations. New York: New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health.
    Paid leave can help a woman recover physically from giving birth, facilitate mother-infant bonding, and increase breastfeeding durations.
  • Chatterji, P., Markowitz, S. & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2013). Effects of early maternal employment on maternal health and well-being.
    Journal of Population Economics 26(1): 283-301.
  • Chatterji, P. & Markowitz, S. (2012). Family leave after childbirth and the mental health of new mothersThe Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics 15(2): 61-76.
    For mothers who worked prior to childbirth and who return to work in the first year, having less than 12 weeks of maternal leave and having less than 8 weeks of paid maternal leave are both associated with increases in depressive symptoms, and having less than 8 weeks of paid leave is associated with a reduction in overall health status.
  • Chung, P.J., et. al. (2007). Need for and use of family leave among parents of children with special care needsPediatrics 119(5): e1047-e1055.
    Maternal employment of at least thirty hours during the first nine months of a newborn’s life can lead to reduced school readiness scores at three years of age.
  • Guendelman, S., et al. (2009). Juggling work and breastfeeding: Effects of maternity leave and occupational characteristics. Pediatrics 123(1): 38-46.
    Women who use paid leave breastfeed for substantially longer periods of time compared to those who do not benefit from paid leave.
  • Ruhm, C.J. (2000). Parental leave and child healthJournal of Health Economics 19: 931-960.
    Longer parental leave is associated with lower mortality rates among infants and young children.
  • Schuster, M.A. et. al, (2009). Perceived effects of leave from work and the role of paid leave among parents of children with special care needsAmerican Journal of Public Health 99(4): 698-705.
    Receiving pay during leave might improve leave’s effects on child physical and emotional health and parent emotional health, while limiting its negative effects on finances; parents of children with special health care needs perceive time away from employment during their child’s illness to be a critical contributor to child health.
  • Streahelin, K., Bertea, P.C. & and Stutz, E.Z. (2007). Length of maternity leave and health of mother and child: A reviewInternational Journal of Public Health 52: 202-209.
    Researchers find a positive association between maternity leave length, maternal mental health, and breastfeeding duration.
  • Tanaka, S. (2005). Parental leave and child health across OECD countries. The Economic Journal 115: F7-F28.
    Longer parental leave is associated with higher birth weight and lower mortality rates among infants and young children.

Family Economic Security

Family leave insurance is associated with improved family economic security. Much of the United States research related to family economic security has drawn on data collected in the two states that have enacted family leave insurance: California and New Jersey. Based on this and other work, researchers have found that women who took paid leave and chose to return to the labor market experienced higher employment rates and increased wages. Paid leave may also be associated with greater job retention. By encouraging men to take parental leave, family leave insurance fosters gender equity in the home and the workplace. Employers also benefit from family leave insurance through higher productivity, lower turnover, and increased employee satisfaction. For a comprehensive list of publications on paid family leave, visit the National Partnership for Women & Families’ database.

  • Appelbaum E. & Milkman, R. (2011). Leaves that pay: Employer and worker experiences with paid family leave in California. Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research.
    California’s paid family leave program has substantially benefited the workers who utilize it, especially workers in low-quality jobs, and has had minimal impact on businesses; the vast majority of surveyed employers reported positive effects or not effect at all on their productivity, profitability, and performance.
  • Boushey, H. & Glynn, S. J. (April 2012). The effects of paid family and medical leave on employment stability and economic security. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.
    Paid family and medical leave, if offered to everyone, will increase employment stability and lifetime employment, especially for those workers who need it the most; the authors propose amending the Social Security Act to allow workers to earn benefits when they need family and medical leave.
  • Dahl, G.B., Loken, K.V., & Mogstad, M. (2014). Peer effects in program participationAmerican Economic Review 104(7): 2049-2074. 
    Coworkers and brothers are 11 and 15 percentage points, respectively, more likely to take paternity leave if their peer took up Norway’s paid paternity leave.
  • Firestein, N., O’Leary, A., & Savitsky, Z. (2011). A guide to implementing paid family leave: Lessons from California. Labor Project for Working Families and Berkley Center for Health, Economic & Family Security.  
    This guide provides key lessons learned in passing and implementing California’s Paid Family Leave program. 
  • Gomby, D.S. & Pei, D-J. (2009). Newborn family leave: Effects on children, parents, and business. The David and Lucille Packard Foundation.
    Newborn family leave has significant positive effects on the health of young children, rates of breastfeeding, and fathers’ involvement with their babies, but low-income and part-time workers are less likely to have access to either paid or unpaid leave.
  • Guendelman, S., Goodman, J., Kharrazi, M. & Lahiff, M. (2013). Work-family balance after childbirth: The association between employer-offered leave characteristics and maternity leave duration.
    Maternal and Child Health Journal e-publication. Access to and duration of employer-offered maternity leave significantly determine the timing of return to work following childbirth; more generous leave is associated with later return to work.
  • Houser, L. & Vartanian, T.P. (2012). Pay matters: The positive impact of paid family leave for families, businesses and the public. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Women and Work, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
    Women who take paid leave after a child’s birth report stronger labor force attachment and positive changes in wages in the year following a child’s birth compared to those who did not take any leave; both women and men report lower levels of public assistance receipt in the year following a child’s birth compared to those who do not take any leave.
  • Houser, L. & White, K. (2012). Awareness of New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance Program is low, even as public support remains high and need persists. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Women and Work, Rutgers University. 
    Fewer than half of New Jersey residents knew their paid leave program existed three years after implementation of the Family Leave Insurance program.
  • International Labour Organization. (2014). Maternity and paternity at work: Law and practice across the world.
  • Lerner, S. & Appelbaum, E. (2014). Business as usual: New Jersey employers’ experiences with Family Leave Insurance. Washington, DC: Center for Economic and Policy Research.
  • Levin-Epstein, J. (2006). Getting punched: The job and family clock. Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy.
    Leave policies and workplace flexibility can have a positive economic and career impact on employees and benefit employers as well.
  • Milkman, R. & Appelbaum, E. (2013). Unfinished business: Paid Family leave in California and the future of U.S. work-family policy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Miller, K., Suppan Helmuth, A., & Farabee-Siers, R. (August 2009).The need for paid parental leave for federal employees: Adapting to a changing workforce.Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
    Parental leave policies for federal employees would save millions of dollars from reduced turnover and improved recruitment and retention.
  • National Partnership for Women & Families. (March 2011). Taking care of business: The business benefits of paid leave.
    Paid leave policies helps to retain valuable workers while reducing turnover.
  • National Partnership for Women & Families. (2015). First impressions: Comparing state paid family leave programs in their first years. 
    Across all three programs, workers used paid family leave most often to care for a new child and women were the vast majority of claimants in all three states. First year leave usage was higher in California than in New Jersey or Rhode Island, but Rhode Island experienced higher rates of men applying for paid leave.
  • Rankin, N. & Mark, M. (2015). A necessity, not a benefit: NYC’s low-income moms discuss their struggles without paid family leave and job security. New York, NY: Community Service Society.
  • Rossin-Slater, M., Ruhm, C.J. & Waldfogel, J. (2013). The effects of California’s paid family leave program on mothers’ leave-taking and subsequent labor market outcomes.Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 32(2): 224-245.
  • White, K., Houser, L., & Nisbet, E. (2013). Policy in action: New Jersey’s Family Leave Insurance Program at age three. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Women and Work, Rutgers University.

Journal articles not available online can usually be accessed through a university library subscription.