Employment Continuity Among New Mothers

by Jacob Alex Klerman, Arleen Leibowitz

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Recently both state and federal governments have enacted maternity leave legislation. The key provision of that legislation is that after a leave (of a limited duration), the recent mother is guaranteed the right to return to her pre-leave employer at the same or equivalent position. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey-Youth (NLS-Y), this paper correlates work status after childbirth with work status before pregnancy. Almost all women (nearly 90 percent) who work full-time both before and after childbirth continue to work at the same employer. Thus maternity leave legislation is unlikely to have a major effect on employment continuity. However, compared to all demographically similar women, new mothers do have an excess probability of leaving their jobs. Finally, most maternity leave legislation limits its protections to full-time workers with sufficient job tenure at sufficiently large firms. Using the NLS-Y, the paper estimates that the federal Family Leave Act covers only about a third of all working new mothers. The restriction to full-time workers is relatively unimportant because few part-time workers would satisfy the tenure and firm-size requirements.

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