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Three essays on maternity leave policies, utilization and consequences


This dissertation examines maternity leave policies, utilization and consequences in three separate, but related, papers. In the Introduction, I describe the ways state-level leave policies influence, but do not perfectly predict, utilization and then discuss the heterogeneity of women’s experiences during pregnancy and post-partum, and how that heterogeneity informs interpretation of results in this field.

In Chapter 2 (“Laboring until labor: the prevalence and correlates of antenatal maternity leave in the United States”), I use a national survey of English-speaking women to examine maternity leave taken in the final weeks of pregnancy. I describe individual-, employer-, and policy-level correlates of antenatal leave (ANL), focusing in particular on variation in state temporary disability insurance (TDI) laws. I find that two-thirds of women in this sample stopped working more than a week before their due date, and that state policies significantly influenced leave-taking, even after controlling for characteristics of women and their jobs. While certain individual-level characteristics of women’s work were important, employer policies were not significantly associated with ANL use or duration. The literature does not yet include a national analysis of antenatal leave and its correlates. This paper fills that gap and sets up the following chapter on the consequences of taking ANL.

In Chapter 3 (“Antenatal maternity leave and childbirth using the First Baby Study: a propensity score analysis”), I use survey data from a prospective cohort in Pennsylvania to test whether women who take maternity leave at the end of pregnancy have better labor and delivery outcomes. In this sample of women giving birth for the first time, fully half of the sample did not stop working before delivery. Using propensity score matching, I find that women who did stop working at least two days prior to delivery experienced more negative delivery outcomes, including an increased likelihood of unplanned Cesarean section. This paper highlights the strong selection into leave-taking, particularly in a context of limited leave availability.

In Chapter 4 (“The impact of California’s Paid Family Leave law on maternal time use”), I shift focus to postnatal maternity leave and use the American Time Use Survey, a nationally-representative dataset collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, to examine whether the country’s first paid family leave (PFL) law increased the amount of time exposed women spent on childcare and decreased their time in paid work. Using a difference-in-difference-in-difference approach with variation in state, time, and age of youngest child, I find that after PFL, women in California significantly increased the time they spent with children in their care and slightly reduced their time spent working. Exploiting a natural experiment, I am able to avoid some of the selection concerns present in the previous chapter, but the daily diary nature of the data do not illuminate whether time use changed due to leave-taking, schedule changes, or some other factor.

The results of these studies will inform future research on maternity leave and maternal health, and guide policymaking with regards to targeting and promoting maternity leave policies.

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