Abstract: Parental Leave Access in New York City: How the Composition of Paid and Unpaid Leave Masks Inequities (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Parental Leave Access in New York City: How the Composition of Paid and Unpaid Leave Masks Inequities

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Meredith Slopen, MSW, Doctoral Student, Columbia University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: Welcoming a new child requires parents ‑ particularly mothers ‑ to take time away from work. This time can be obtained in many ways: by leaving the labor force, by taking unpaid time off from a job that one returns to, using accrued paid time off, or through paid family leave (PFL) or maternity leave offered by employers or through national, state or local policies. PFL is a protective policy mechanism that has been shown to benefit more privileged mothers. Less understood is how disparities in the combined utilization of paid leave and unpaid time off might impact both the overall length of leave as well as the economic impact on the family. This study aims to add to the literature by using recent data to first determine how employer and maternal demographic characteristics impact the type of leave taken following the birth of a child, and secondly how these characteristics impact the overall, paid, and unpaid lengths of leave taken.

Methods: The 2016 New York City Work and Family Leave Survey is a population-representative telephone survey of women who gave birth in 2014 and were interviewed 12-24 months post-birth. Analyses included mothers employed during pregnancy who returned to work. Multinomial logistic regression was used to assess relative risk of utilizing types of leave and multivariate linear regressions were conducted to identify the associations between maternal and employment characteristics and length of leave.

Results: Overall 35.4% of mothers utilized a combination of paid and unpaid leave, while 27.1% took only paid leave, and 31.4% took only unpaid time off. Holding all else constant, mothers who are FLMA-eligible are more likely to take paid leave only (RRR=6.49), and less likely to combine paid and unpaid leave than mothers who are not FMLA eligible. Young mothers ages 18-24 are less likely to take all forms of leave. While there is not a significant difference in the overall length of leave taken by FMLA status, mothers who are FMLA eligible take 3.85 fewer weeks of unpaid leave and 3.55 more weeks of paid leave. Black mothers utilize 3.51 more weeks of leave overall than white mothers, and 4.49 more weeks of unpaid leave. Similarly, shortened leave taking by mothers with less than a college degree is driven by fewer weeks of paid leave.

Conclusions and Implications: These findings add nuance to previously noted patterns in access to leaves of sufficient lengths and illustrate the penalties faced by Black working mothers who, even when they access similar lengths of leave, are more likely to be unpaid. In the absence of universal PFL, young working mothers are at higher risk of shortened leave taking, with implications for compliance with breast feeding guidelines, bonding with their children, and access to the protective aspect of paid family leave for their mental health. The introduction of the New York State Paid Family Leave Act in 2018 will provide an opportunity to assess how paid leave taking can serve as a lever to increase equity.