When it comes to advancing gender equality in the workplace, paid family leave is often touted as a policy to help women balance career and caretaking. But it should not be seen as a “silver bullet,” according to Stanford scholar Maya Rossin-Slater. In fact, research on the effects of paid leave on women’s career trajectories provides a mixed picture, she says, with impacts being dependent on the length of leave and other factors.
Rather, a reason to support paid family leave (PFL) is because of its health and well-being benefits and its contributions to overall financial stability, said Rossin-Slater, an economist and associate professor of health policy in the Department of Health Policy in the School of Medicine. In her research, she analyzes the economic and health impacts of paid family leave, studying workers, families and employers.
Here, Rossin-Slater talks about the holistic benefits of PFL. She has reviewed some of the available evidence demonstrating the positive benefits of PFL for child and maternal health, and her own research has found that workplace flexibility for fathers can lead to positive spillover effects for mothers – it can, for example, lower the likelihood of having to see a medical specialist for childbirth related complications.
Rossin-Slater also discusses how support for PFL has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic as more employers realized how helpful it was for their employees.
Rossin-Slater is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR).
Recent research from the National Women’s Law Center on recovery from pandemic-related job losses revealed the stark difference between men and women returning to work, with women trailing behind men by about 1.1 million jobs. Lack of affordable child care is cited as one reason for the disparity. Could PFL be another?
It is possible that a lack of access to paid family leave may contribute to this disparity between men and women returning to work. PFL provides an opportunity for workers to take several weeks off work to take care of a newborn, newly adopted child or a family member who has a severe but temporary illness. To date, only nine states and Washington, D.C., have enacted paid family leave legislation, and only 19 percent of American workers have access to such leave from their employers. While the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provided access to paid family leave on a temporary basis due to the pandemic, it expired at the end of 2020. As we know, the pandemic has lasted longer than that. For the millions of families who had a child during the pandemic, a lack of PFL may have pushed more mothers out of the labor force, especially as child care options became more limited and people worried about risk of COVID exposure for their infants in child care settings. In addition, being able to take time off work to care for an ill family member – or even just a child who must quarantine from school due to a COVID infection or exposure – could have been particularly valuable for women, who tend to be the default caregivers in these situations.