Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Paid Family Leave and Infant Health: Evidence from State Programs

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 9:10 AM
Merrick II (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Lindsey Rose Bullinger, Indiana University
Early research indicates California’s paid family leave program has improved mothers’ labor market outcomes nine to twelve months after childbirth (Rossin-Slater, Ruhm, and Waldfogel 2013; Baum and Ruhm 2013), however, very little is known about the impact these state-level programs have had on children. The introduction of 12 weeks of unpaid leave in the United States under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) decreased infant mortality rates by nearly 10 percent (Rossin 2011). These health benefits were stronger for children of highly educated and married women, who are more likely to afford to take unpaid time off. Rossin-Slater et al. (2013) report California’s PFL program doubled the length of leave taken, especially by low-educated, unmarried, and minority mothers. These findings suggest that PFL programs might provide children from low income and minority families health benefits early in their lives. This study examines the extent to which the introduction of state-level PFL policies affect infant health outcomes, particularly infant mortality, in the United States.

Using Vital Statistics Linked Births/Infant Death Certificate data from 2007-2012, the author applies two approaches to measure the impact of family leave policies on infant health. One approach uses across-state variation to identify the relative change in treatment states’ infant mortality rates around the time of their PFL policy implementation, relative to comparable states. The second approach exploits variation in the employment, education, and income levels at the county level. This analysis adds another layer of variation under the presumption that employees residing in counties with lower levels of education and income are less likely to have access to paid leave through their employer, less likely to afford to take unpaid time off following the birth of a child, and thus more likely to “take up” and benefit from the PFL program, as in the case of California (Rossin-Slater et al. 2013). Residents in these counties should anticipate a higher impact of the policy than those with alternatives to the state-provided PFL program.

Preliminary findings suggest state-level paid parental leave policies decrease infant mortality rates. The effects are stronger in counties with lower levels of education. Causes of infant death and age at death will be investigated in further detail. The results of this study have important implications for the increasing dialogue surrounding a federal paid family leave program.