California's paid family leave law improves maternal psychological health

Ann P. Bartel, Columbia Business School's Merrill Lynch Professor of Workforce Transformation, demonstrates the positive impact of paid family leave on maternal postpartum psychological health.

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To study the effect of California's first in the nation paid family leave policy on maternal postpartum psychological distress for women overall and for disadvantaged groups.


We use restricted data from 11 waves of the National Health Interview Survey, from 2000 to 2010, to examine mothers with children under the age of 12 months. Outcomes included three measures obtained from the six-item Kessler Psychological Distress Scale: an aggregated score and thresholds for mild and moderate psychological distress. For inference, we used synthetic control models, comparing mothers with infants in California to mothers with infants in the control group, pre-law and post-law.


Access to paid family leave was associated with a decrease in postpartum psychological distress symptoms among mothers with infants, representing a 27.6% decrease from the pre-treatment mean. It was also associated with a reduction in mild postpartum distress, a 38.4% reduction from the pre-treatment mean. Populations that typically lack access to paid family leave, particularly single and younger mothers, may have seen even larger effects.


Paid family leave was associated with improved mental health for California mothers, suggesting that expansions of state or federal paid family leave policies have the potential to improve maternal postpartum health.

Read the full article in Social Science & Medicine here

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