Paid Maternal Leave Has Long-Term Health Benefits for Women Who Receive It

In 2019, a UNICEF report ranked the United States last in support of maternal leave. It was the only country among the world’s 41 most developed nations that did not mandate paid leave for women who give birth. The Family and Medical Leave Act enables U.S. employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Eight states have passed laws mandating that paid maternity leave be granted to women who give birth.

Women employed by major research universities in the United States are far more likely to have access to paid maternal leave. A recent study found that about 60 percent of major research universities in the U.S. and Canada offer paid maternal leave. The mean duration of maternal leave at these institutions was 14.2 weeks.

A new study has found paid maternal leave has health benefits for women many years after they had given birth. The study followed a large group of women in Norway who gave birth in the late 1970s. They followed their health histories as they grew older.

The results showed that women who were given paid maternal leave had lower blood pressure, a lower body mass index, lower cholesterol levels, were less likely to smoke, and more likely to exercise when they reached the age of 40.

Meghan Skira, an associate professor of economics at the University of Georgia and a co-author of the study, stated that “we know that women are healthier at 40, but we don’t know exactly why. We did not find significant changes in income or employment among the women who had access to the reform, so the health improvements are unlikely due to income effects. We speculate that a reduction in stress, more time to recover from childbirth, and perhaps breastfeeding played a role.”

Dr. Skira joined the faculty at the Univerity of Georgia in 2012. She is a summa cum laude graduate of the Univerity of Rhode Island, where she double majored in economics and Spanish. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in economics from Boston College.

The full study, “The Impact of Paid Maternity Leave on Maternal Health,” was published in the American Economic Journal. It may be accessed here.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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