The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Policy Matters: The Relationship Between Public Policy, Paid Family Leave, and Economic Security for U.S. Workers

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 11:00 AM
Executive Center 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Linda Houser, PhD, Assistant Professor, Widener University, Chester, PA
Thomas P. Vartanian, PhD, Professor, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
Background and Purpose:

A rich and growing literature attests to the health and economic benefits that accrue to workers and families when individuals have access to paid leave to care for a new child. However, paid leave remains inaccessible to many. Among first-time mothers, just half are able to take paid leave in connection with the birth of a child. In the absence of public policy, workers’ access to wages during a care-related period of time off is variable and unreliable, and it is largely confined to those with the highest earnings and job status.

Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) policies in five states enable women to take short medical leaves in connection with childbirth, and Paid Family Leave (PFL) policies in two states enable men and women to take leave to care for a new child. While we would expect these policies to positively impact new parents’ reports of taking paid leave in connection with the birth of a child, our goal is to estimate the magnitude of such an increase and its impacts on family economic security.


We analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 to 2009 Panel—a nationally representative sample of individuals no older than age 30 in 2009—linked to state identifiers. All results were drawn from logistic and linear regression analyses. Our analyses controlled for a variety of individual- and state-level factors. Depending upon the analysis and sample in question, sample sizes ranged from 258 to 1,355.


  • Women in states with TDI or PFL programs are twice as likely to take paid leave following the birth of a child than are women in other states. The effect is even larger for low-income women—those who are least likely to have access to paid leave through an employer.


  • Women in California, which has a longstanding TDI program and the first PFL program in the nation, are more likely to take paid leave than are women in other states.


  • The California PFL law resulted in a sharp increase in men’s leave-taking following a child’s birth. For the average new father in California, the likelihood of taking paid family leave following a child’s birth more than doubled after the implementation of the new law, from 35% in 2004 and earlier to 76% in 2005 and after.


  • Women in states with TDI or PFL programs are less likely than women in other states to receive public assistance or food stamp (SNAP) income following a child’s birth, particularly when they utilize paid leave.

Conclusions and Implications:

At a time when all adult members of most families with children are in the labor force and the population is aging, this research demonstrates that public policies may be one way to ensure that workers can take the leave they need. In keeping with the model of states as policy laboratories, further examination of state programs such as California’s PFL should be used to inform discussions about paid leave policy options.