In the United States, paid family leave has become a national topic, and more and more Americans are expressing support for programs that help out working moms and dads. As interest in paid family leave increases, researchers have taken an interest in the effects of paid family leave in two states that recently adopted family-friendly policies. The results? According to a recent review by the Urban Institute, a public policy think tank, paid family leave can make a marked difference in working moms' ability to both take time off to care for their newborns and still return to work afterwards.
In order to conduct their review, which was released on Wednesday, researchers at the Urban Institute analyzed the effects of paid family leave policies in California (which enacted family leave legislation in 2002) and New Jersey (which did the same in 2008). The programs in each state provide 55 to 67 percent of employees' wages for 10 to 12 weeks after a child's birth.
As it turns out, those wages have made a big difference for new mothers — especially those who need it most. One study found that California's program doubled the use of maternity leave in the state and increased the average length of maternity leave by three to five weeks. It also upped the likelihood of mothers being employed three months before giving birth and nine to 12 months after, suggesting women supported by paid family leave are far more likely to remain in the workforce.
Another study found that California's program also helped reduce new mothers' risk of falling into poverty by contributing to their wages on maternity leave and helping ensure their continued participation in the workforce afterwards. Perhaps most importantly, the positive effects of paid leave seemed to benefit disadvantaged mothers the most. Moms without bachelor's degrees in both New Jersey and California spent more time employed in the time near childbirth, and the overall amount of time they spent job-seeking after giving birth decreased.
"Existing state paid family leave has had positive effects on mothers’ labor market outcomes," the Urban Institute researchers wrote in their paid leave review. "A national policy could address the inadequacies and inequities of current leave options facing parents of newborn children."
The health benefits to moms who take time off after having a baby are myriad: research has shown that time off can help improve breastfeeding outcomes, reduce parental stress, and encourage important parent-child bonding. For moms that can't afford to take time off of work, paid leave is an important aid in allowing them to recover and take time to care for their new arrival.
Luckily, paid family leave policies seem to be spreading to other states. Rhode Island, New York, and the District of Columbia have all passed family-friendly legislation in recent years that has either gone into effect already or will soon, and politicians are increasingly speaking of enacting paid family leave nationwide.