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 cases, the leave is unpaid and rarely longer than 12 weeks in duration. This study evaluates disparities in parental leave eligibility, access, and usage across the family income distribution in the United States. It also describes the links between leave-taking and women's labor market careers. The focus is especially on low-income families, as their leave coverage and ability to afford to take unpaid leave is particularly poor. This study shows that the introduction of both state and federal legislation increased overall leave coverage, leave provision, and leave-taking.
For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leads to an increased probability of leave-taking by nearly 20 percentage points and increased average leave length by almost five weeks across all states. The new 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-taking were very similar across states with and without prior leave legislation, and the FMLAdid not disproportionately increase leave-taking for women who worked in firms and jobs covered by the new legislation, as these women were already relatively well covered by other parental leave arrangements.