Panel Paper: Impact of Longer Paid Maternity Leave on Maternal Mental Health and Wellbeing: Evidence from Chile

Saturday, November 9, 2019
I.M Pei Tower: Majestic Level, Vail (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Luis Faundez Chacon, University of Illinois, Chicago

Childbirth is a critical life event for most women, which impacts their physical and mental health. After childbirth, the levels of hormones in a woman’s body quickly drop. This leads to chemical changes in her brain that may trigger mood swings. In addition, constant sleep deprivation can lead to physical discomfort and exhaustion, which can contribute to the symptoms of postpartum depression. This disorder usually begins within the first six weeks after delivery. Employed women additionally have to deal with work demands while recovering from childbirth. In this paper, I study the causal effect of longer maternity leave on postpartum depression and other measures of mental health. I take advantage of exogenous variation on paid maternity leave introduced by a policy change in Chile, which in 2011 increased the paid postnatal leave period from 12 to 24 weeks. Using a propensity score matching DID IV approach, I find that one extra week of paid maternity leave increases the probability of being diagnosed with postpartum depression by 0.3 percentage points. This longer paid maternity leave increases labor market attachment of mothers of newborns by 5 percentage points. By remaining employed, women are not only less likely to be uninsured (1.4 percentage points), but also they get access to better health insurance (6 percentage points). This availability of a better health insurance plus more time to go to the doctor, increase doctor visits during the first year after delivery, especially mental health visits (1.2 percentage points). I find no evidence of a significant effect on stress level during the first 18 months after delivery using the Parental Index Stress (PSI) and on longer term depressive symptoms measured with the CES-D scale. My evidence suggests that this increase in postpartum depression diagnosis is mainly explained by increased doctor visits rather than mental health worsening.