Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Research on Paid Family Leave

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.

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.

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.

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