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New Study Shows Paid Family Leave Isn’t a Silver Bullet

Fifteen years after California passed paid family leave, not enough men are using the benefit, and the women who do make less than their counterparts.

It’s been more than 15 years since California became the first state in the nation to guarantee paid family leave to new parents. Under the terms of its law—which the current governor wants to expand—both mothers and fathers are eligible to receive benefits of about 70 percent of their earnings up to a certain cap for up to six weeks.

That law was undoubtedly a huge step forward for those who want parents to bond with and care for their kids. But a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that the short- and long-term effects of the law aren’t as clear-cut or positive as one might have hoped.

“We find little evidence that PFLA increased women’s employment, wage earnings, or attachment to employers. For new mothers, taking up PFLA reduced employment by 7 percent and lowered annual wages by 8 percent six to ten years after giving birth,” they wrote in the abstract.

Regardless of the mother’s age, previous income level, and marriage status, these patterns held true.

After exploring possible reasons for this trend, the authors of this paper concluded that taking paid leave encouraged working mothers to scale back and spend more time with their children.

If that was the end of the story, one could argue that mothers given time off to bond with their kids early in life learn to value it more and create routines that have fewer hours spent working. But the fact that men overwhelmingly aren’t doing the same thing is cause for concern.

Just 15 percent of bonding leave claims in California in 2014 wre taken by men, and the average man took just two or three days off. It’s not all that surprising, then, that their employment and earnings did not decline post-baby in the same way women’s did.

Maya Rossin-Slater, an economist at Stanford and expert on the law, told the New York Times that she took the paper and its findings seriously.

“They have fantastic data and large sample sizes relative to the prior papers, and that’s a big advance…This paper cautions us that paid leave is not a silver bullet.”

Because as positive as paid family leave is, it doesn’t address issues like the sky-high price of childcare, the discrepancy between school and work hours, and the myriad other issues that make parenting in California and the United States tougher than it has to be.