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Maternity Leave: How It Affects Lives Gendered Perspective

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Government-mandated maternity leave policies have generally been designed to improve labor market outcomes for women and to facilitate female labor force participation. In fact, over the past 20 years, most economically advanced countries, with the exception of the United States, have enacted a wide array of maternity benets with this intention, and, on average, such policies have expanded. These countries have witnessed higher growth rates and levels of female labor force participation relative to the United States.

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Women, on average, are paid less than men. According to the 2015 report prepared by the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR), female full-time workers in the United States received only 81 cents for every dollar earned by men; this difference amounts to a gender wage gap of 19 percent. Women's progress in education, their advancement in the labor market, and the adoption of anti-discrimination laws contributed to narrowing the gap; progress towards gender equality, however, has been slowing in recent years

The persistence of gender differences in wage profiles reflects, in part, the effect of motherhood on the careers of women. In the absence of adequate leave policies, new mothers tend to drop from the labor force to take care of their children. When children reach weaning age, some mothers return to the labor market; however, they are faced with substantial setbacks in their wage profiles, if compared with men of similar experience and education, in part, as their skills may have depreciated after a long period of unemployment. This work belongs to the literature on gender inequality in the labor market, recently surveyed by Bertrand [2011]. In particular, it is related to the work emphasizing the effect of parenthood on gender differences. We adopt a quasi-experimental approach by looking into the recent reform to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Since 1993, The FMLA guarantees eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in connection with the birth or adoption of a child. To be eligible, a person must work for an employer with 50 or more employees, have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, and have worked at least 1,250 hours during that 12-month period. California was the first state to enact a paid family leave program in 2004, expanding its Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program to include family leave benefits. In 2008 New Jersey adopted the Family Leave Insurance (FLI), also built on top of an existing TDI program, and started its implementation in 2009. In 2013 Rhode Island introduced the Temporary Caregiver Insurance, which became effective in 2014. Paid leave programs provide eligible workers with a portion of their wages for a set number of weeks. In California and New Jersey, workers receive up to six weeks of paid family leave and workers in Rhode Island receive up to four weeks. The state insurance programs also extend the coverage provided under the FMLA; workers, however, do not always receive job protection during periods of leave.

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With respect to the main effects of leave policies, the majority of the literature has focused on the economic and labor market consequences of parental leave reforms. Far less attention has been paid to other policies or outcomes. Accordingly, we highlight several specific areas for future work. First, future research is needed to inform strategies to encourage partners to take leave after the birth of a child and to share care responsibilities more equitably. Second, although the effects of sick and parental leave policies are difficult to disentangle in some contexts, including the United States, where medical and parental leave policies are combined, rigorous evaluations of sick leave policies are needed. Third, comparatively fewer studies have evaluated other outcomes plausibly affected by leave policies, including child health, maternal or paternal health, or social outcomes, particularly as they are experienced over the life course. As a few studies included in our review illustrated, it is challenging but feasible to evaluate the longer‐term effects of leave policies on these outcomes. Fourth, with respect to heterogeneity, it is largely unclear if certain population subgroups are more likely to benefit from leave policies than others because extant work has rarely assessed effect measure modification by sociodemographic or other characteristics. Restrictive leave policies might exacerbate social inequalities in the use or duration of paid leave taken, as well as downstream outcomes, as illustrated by the 2011 study by Rossin showing that the FMLA was associated with improvements in child health, but only among college‐educated white mothers (Shim J. 2016). Understanding how leave policies affect social groups who struggle the most with the dual demands of work and care is a fruitful area for future work. Whether contextual factors—including other public policies such as those affecting the nature, quality, and affordability of child care and health care—moderate the impact of leave policies is also unknown. Fifth, with some exceptions, few studies have quantified the costs and benefits of paid leave policies from the perspective of employers. Finally, the pathways explaining observed effects, including the impact of leave policies on infant and child mortality, have not been adequately explored (Stoddard C, Stock WA, 2016).

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Obviously, while the United States has yet to succeed in passing paid leave on the federal level, I believe a comprehensive paid federal parental leave plan will pass within the next ten years. Not only is paid parental leave critical for families, especially low-wage families, but it has wide support among voters. Candidates have started to discuss paid leave with more vigor and the major candidates in the 2016 presidential election mentioned paid leave on the campaign trail. This is becoming an issue that legislators can no longer ignore. With the rise in minimum wage and paid sick laws on the state level, paid parental leave is likely next. It is critical that any paid parental leave plan include all employees, be gender-neutral, and provide job protection. Plans should reflect the proven success of state plans by providing funding through small employee payroll taxes or a mix of employee and employer payroll taxes, similar to Washington state’s plan. If the United States wants to support working families, help decrease the wage gap, and create a healthier America, they will pass paid leave in the next Congress.

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Baum CL. The effects of maternity leave legislation on mothers' labor supply after childbirth. South Econ J. 2003;69(4):772‐799.

Waldfogel J. Family leave coverage in the 1990s. Mon Labor Rev. 1999;122(10):13‐21.

Washbrook E, Ruhm CJ, Waldfogel J, Han W‐J. Public policies, women's employment after childbearing, and child well‐being. B E J Econ Anal Policy. 2011;11(1).

Stoddard C, Stock WA, Hogenson E. The impact of maternity leave laws on cesarean delivery. B E J Econ Anal Policy. 2016;16(1).

Shim J. Family leave policy and child mortality: evidence from 19 OECD countries from 1969 to 2010. Int J Soc Welf. 2016

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