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date: 23 April 2024

Maternity Leave and Paternity Leave: Evidence on the Economic Impact of Legislative Changes in High-Income Countrieslocked

Maternity Leave and Paternity Leave: Evidence on the Economic Impact of Legislative Changes in High-Income Countrieslocked

  • Serena Canaan, Serena CanaanDepartment of Economics, Simon Fraser University
  • Anne Sophie Lassen, Anne Sophie LassenDepartment of Economics, Copenhagen Business School
  • Philip RosenbaumPhilip RosenbaumDepartment of Economics, Copenhagen Business School
  •  and Herdis SteingrimsdottirHerdis SteingrimsdottirDepartment of Economics, Copenhagen Business School

Summary

Labor market policies for expecting and new mothers emerged at the turn of the 19th century. The main motivation for these policies was to ensure the health of mothers and their newborn children. With increased female labor market participation, the focus has gradually shifted to the effects that parental leave policies have on women’s labor market outcomes and gender equality. Proponents of extending parental leave rights for mothers in terms of duration, benefits, and job protection have argued that this will support mothers’ labor market attachment and allow them to take time off from work after childbirth and then safely return to their pre-birth jobs. Others have noted that extended maternity leave can work as a double-edged sword for mothers: If young women are likely to spend months, or even years, on leave, employers are likely to take that into consideration when hiring and promoting their employees. These policies may therefore end up adversely affecting women’s labor market outcomes. This has led to an increased focus on activating fathers to take parental leave, and in 2019, the European Parliament approved a directive requiring member states to ensure at least 2 months of earmarked paternity leave.

The literature on parental leave has proliferated during the past two decades. The increased number of studies on the topic has brought forth some consistent findings. First, the introduction of short maternity leave is beneficial for both maternal and child health and for mothers’ labor market outcomes. Second, there appear to be negligible benefits from a leave extending beyond 6 months in terms of health outcomes and children’s long-term outcomes. Furthermore, longer leaves have little, or even adverse, influence on mothers’ labor market outcomes. However, evidence suggests that there may be underlying heterogeneous effects from extended leave among different socioeconomic groups. The literature on the effect of earmarked paternity leave indicates that these policies are effective in increasing fathers’ leave-taking and involvement in child care. However, the evidence on the influence of paternity leave on gender equality in the labor market remains scarce and is somewhat mixed. Finally, recent studies that focus on the effect of parental leave policies for firms find that in general, firms are able to compensate for lost labor when their employees go on leave. However, if firms face constraints when replacing employees, it could negatively influence their performance.

Subjects

  • Health, Education, and Welfare Economics
  • Labor and Demographic Economics
  • Public Economics and Policy

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