One of the biggest arguments for paid leave for new parents has been an economic one: Research has repeatedly shown that women with paid time off after childbirth are more likely to keep working.
But a new study, the largest to be done in the United States, found the opposite. In California, which in 2004 became the first state to offer paid family leave, new mothers who took it that year ended up working less and earning less a decade later. They averaged $24,000 in cumulative lost wages, it found.
For first-time mothers, there was a clear negative effect. After 10 years, the new mothers who took paid leave right after they gave birth were 5 percent to 7 percent less likely to be employed, and those who were employed earned 5 percent to 8 percent less. The researchers said the earnings decreases could be because they worked fewer hours, moved to jobs with lower wages and more flexibility, or became self-employed.
These patterns held no matter the age or prior earnings of the mother, and were true for both unmarried and married mothers, though the decreases in employment were slightly larger for unmarried women
Not too surprising. Pay people to refrain from work and they discover how enjoyable it is to hang out at home!
Usually it takes a while for a welfare program to be co-opted by rich white Americans, but this one was immediately latched onto:
Despite the large sample, the effects were limited to women who took leave immediately after it became available. Only about a fifth of women who gave birth then did so, and that group might have been more inclined to step back from work in the first place.
A variety of research has found that this group was more likely to be older, high-earning, white and college educated than those who took leave after the program had been in effect for a while. Even later, awareness of the program was low, particularly among low earners — exactly the group that research has shown gets the most economic benefits from paid leave.
- Ann Althouse comments on this article
- “When and why did it become necessary to pay Americans to have children?”
- research from Maya Rossin-Slater, quoted in the NYT article, is featured in the Children, Mothers, and Fathers chapter of Real World Divorce