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The impact of parental leave on maternal return to work after childbirth in the United States

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Hofferth, Sandra L. and Curtin, Sally C.
Publication Date: 
18 Jun 2003

Available in print (see SOURCE) and online for download.


Although new mothers are more likely than ever to be in the labour force, the time around childbirth is a dynamic one, with women quitting work altogether or changing jobs to accommodate the demands of their infants. The passage of Family and Medical Leave legislation during the 1980s and early 1990s may have altered incentives for employment among mothers of young children. This paper will examine whether the FMLA or prior state-legislated leave packages were associated with changes in the continuity of employment for mothers following childbirth, changes in return to their previous employer, and changes in their post-return versus pre-return earnings. Data come from the 1984-1997 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and its 1997 Child Development Supplement. Women who had a child post-FMLA return to work more quickly than those whose child was born prior to the FMLA, controlling for demographic factors and the state economic situation. Women who return are also more likely to return to the same job after the passage of the FMLA, but this is true only in states that had not passed a medical leave statute prior to the FMLA. Finally, the FMLA and leave are not associated with increased wages in the two years after birth. The success of job-protected leave policies for retaining experienced employees is discussed.