Labor pains: Maternity leave policy and the labor supply and economic vulnerability of recent mothers

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Douglas A. Wolf


Maternity leave policy, Labor supply, Economic vulnerability, Mothers

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Economics | Family, Life Course, and Society | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Labor Economics | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology | Women's Studies


After a decade of legislative struggles the United States enacted family leave legislation in 1993. Prior to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the United States was the only industrialized country without a national maternity leave policy. While the FMLA allows leave-taking for a variety of medical and caregiving reasons, this dissertation investigates one potential use of the legislation--the provision of maternity leave for women. After a brief introduction, Chapter One describes the availability of maternity leave through public and private policies before the FMLA, the provisions of the FMLA and some proposals for changing the legislation. Two empirical essays, Chapters Two and Three, assess the effects of the FMLA on labor market outcomes and the effects of childbirth on short-term economic well-being using data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The second chapter investigates whether the FMLA affected mothers' labor force attachment patterns around the time of childbirth. Specifically, this chapter asks: (1) Did the FMLA alter the employment rate of women around the time of childbirth? (2) Did the FMLA change the probability that a woman who returns to work will return to her pre-birth employer after childbirth? and (3) Did the FMLA have an effect on maternity leave length? Results suggest that the FMLA had little effect on employment or retention rates. Leave length, however, did substantially increase. Chapter Three investigates the effects of childbirth on household economic well-being during the six-month period following the birth. The essay compares economic outcomes and household income sources among (1) FMLA-eligible women and FMLA-ineligible women and (2) households categorized by their poverty and near-poverty status three months prior to childbirth. All analyses in this chapter are Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance. to households where the recent mother was employed three months before childbirth. The results suggest that women who meet the FMLA eligibility criteria are more economically secure, both before and after childbirth, than their ineligible counterparts. Despite increases in the earnings of other household members, economically vulnerable recent mothers experience an increase in their rates of both poverty and near-poverty after childbirth.


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