Parental Leave Legislation and Women's Work: A Story of Unequal Opportunities

Year Published: 2016

Author: Sari Pekkala Kerr

Source: Journal of Policy Analysis and Management

U.S. federal and state family leave legislation requires employers to provide job-protected parental leave for new mothers covered under the legislation. In most casesthe leave is unpaid, and rarely longer than 12 weeks in duration. This study evalu-ates disparities in parental leave eligibility, access, and usage across the family incomedistribution in the United States. It also describes the links between leave-taking andwomen’s labor market careers. The focus is especially on low-income families, as theirleave coverage and ability to afford taking unpaid leave is particularly poor. This studyshows that the introduction of both state and federal legislation increased overall leavecoverage, leave provision, and leave-taking. For example, the Family and Medical LeaveAct (FMLA) leads to an increased probability of leave-taking by nearly 20 percentagepoints and increased average leave length by almost five weeks across all states. Thenew policies did not, however, reduce gaps between low- and high-income families’eligibility, leave-taking, or leave length. In addition, the FMLA effects on leave-takingwere very similar across states with and without prior leave legislation, and the FMLAdid not disproportionately increase leave-taking for women who worked in firms andjobs covered by the new legislation, as these women were already relatively well coveredby other parental leave arrangements.