Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Paid Leave and Timing of Women's Employment before and after Birth

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Paid Leave and Timing of Women's Employment before and after Birth

Article excerpt

Key Words: childbirth, paid leave, women's employment, work interruptions.

From a theoretical perspective, a paid leave policy for childbirth has two effects: It encourages some women to interrupt work for a longer time, and it entices other women to return to their job after birth rather than quit, resulting in a shorter interruption of work. It is, thus, ambiguous on theoretical grounds alone whether, on average, paid leave leads to longer or shorter interruptions of work. This issue is investigated empirically in an economic framework with survival analysis and data from the 1988 National Survey of Family Growth. Women with access to paid leave were found to work later into pregnancy, to be less likely to work during the birth month, and to start work sooner once the infant was at least 2 months old. For women who had paid leave available, additional weeks of leave lengthened work interruptions but at a decreasing rate. All women in the sample had worked continuously for at least 6 months when they became pregnant and did not quit their jobs during pregnancy.

As large numbers of women have joined the labor force, concerns have intensified about conflicts between work and family responsibilities. The additional demands created by employment make it more difficult for families to fulfill their "crucial caretaking services" (U.S. Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, 1993, p. 373), with adverse consequences for the development and health of family members, in particular children (Baydar & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Blau & Grossberg, 1992; Bogenschneider & Steinberg, 1994; Desai, Chase-Lansdale, & Michael, 1989; Desai, Michael, & Chase-Lansdale, 1990; Gottfried & Gottfried, 1988; Muller, 1995). In response to these concerns, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act in August, 1993, to assist families with their caretaking needs without having to jeopardize employment (U.S. Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee,1993).

The Family and Medical Leave Act has been welcomed, but it has also been criticized for not going far enough in supporting families. One point of contention is that the leave is unpaid. For many employees who are offered a leave from work for the birth of a child, actually taking time off may be unrealistic as long as income is not replaced during the time away from work. In 1992, over 36% of married men with a spouse present earned less than $20,000 per year (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993). Early evidence from states with unpaid leave legislation that predates the federal legislation suggests that work interruptions for the birth of a child were shorter among lower-income women (Bond, Galinsky, Lord, Staines, & Brown, 1991). Thus, if taking time off from work is meant to be a realistic option for new parents, paid leave, available in many other countries, may be a more effective alternative.

From the outset, it is not clear whether work interruptions for the birth of a child would, indeed, be longer if a paid leave policy existed. One might surmise that most employees would take a longer break when paid leave is an option, given reports that many parents indicate they are willing to forego some income to spend more time with their children (Moen & Dempster-McClain, 1987). However, it is also possible that some employees would interrupt work for a shorter time when paid leave becomes available because they are enticed to remain in the labor force, rather than to quit their job, when the child is born. A priori, it is not known which of these two opposing effects will dominate. A discussion of paid leave policies could, therefore, benefit from information about its influence on parents' employment decisions. Little information is currently available on this issue.

The study reported here takes a first step. It investigates whether access to paid leave for the birth of a child is related to when women stop paid work during pregnancy and at what point they begin to work postpartum. …

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