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Online ISSN: 1099-176X    Print ISSN: 1091-4358
The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics
Volume 15, Issue 2, 2012. Pages: 61-76
Published Online: 1 June 2012

Copyright © 2012 ICMPE.


 

Family Leave After Childbirth and the Mental Health of New Mothers

Pinka Chatterji,*1 Sara Markowitz2

1Ph.D., Associate Professor, University at Albany and Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research, Albany, NY, USA
2Ph.D., Associate Professor, Emory University and Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research, Atlanta, GA, USA

* Correspondence to: Pinka Chatterji, Department of Economics, University at Albany, BA 111A, 1400 Washington Avenue, Albany NY 12222, USA
Tel.: +1-518-442 4746
Fax: +1-518-442 4736
E-mail: pchatterji@albany.edu.

Source of Funding: The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from NICHD Grant Number 1R03HD052583-01A2 funded through the University at Albany.

Abstract

We examine the association between leave length after childbirth and health outcomes among new mothers.  Data come from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Birth Cohort. The sample is limited to mothers who worked during pregnancy and who returned to work by the first follow-up interview, about 9 months after childbirth.  We use standard OLS and ordered probit models, as well as two-stage least squares and two-stage residual inclusion methods which address the potential endogeneity of leave length.  Findings from the OLS and ordered probit models indicate that taking less than 12 weeks of leave and less than 8 weeks of paid leave both are associated with increased depressive symptoms.  Less than 8 weeks of paid leave is associated with worse overall health.  Findings from models that address the potential endogeneity of leave generally support these results, and suggest that longer leave may improve the health of new mothers.

 

Background: Recent studies indicate that short maternity leave, and, more generally, full-time maternal employment during the first year of life, detract from children's health, cognitive development, and behavioral outcomes. Much less is known, however, about how early parental employment affects the mental and physical health of the mothers themselves.

Aims of the Study: The purpose of this paper is to examine the association between short family leave length (less than 12 weeks of total leave after childbirth, less than 8 weeks of paid leave) and mental and physical health outcomes among new mothers.

Methods: Data come from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study -- Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), a nationally representative sample of 14,000 children born in 2001 and followed until kindergarten entry. We focus on a sample of ECLS-B mothers from the first wave of the survey who had worked during pregnancy and who had returned to work by the time of the first follow-up interview, which was conducted about 9 months after childbirth. When examining the effects of paternal leave, we further restrict this sample to mothers who were married at the time of the first follow-up interview. The maternal health outcomes of interest are measures of depression and overall health status. We use standard OLS and ordered probit models, as well as two-stage least squares and two-stage residual inclusion methods which address the potential endogeneity of family leave with respect to maternal health.

Results: Our findings from the OLS and ordered probit models indicate that, for mothers who worked prior to childbirth and who return to work in the first year, having less than 12 weeks of maternal leave and having less than 8 weeks of paid maternal leave are both associated with increases in depressive symptoms, and having less than 8 weeks of paid leave is associated with a reduction in overall health status. Findings from models that address the potential endogeneity of maternal leave generally support these results, and suggest that longer leave may improve the health of new mothers.

Discussion: Our findings suggest that longer leave after childbirth may benefit families. However, one potential drawback of using cross-sectional variation in state policies and community characteristics for identification is that these measures may be correlated with other unmeasured factors that directly influence family leave and maternal health.

Implications for Health Care Provision and Use: The mother's mental and physical health can be an important route through which infants are affected by parents' employment decisions. Our findings suggest that post-partum health services that target mothers' mental and physical health, and its effects on infants, may be useful.

Implications for Health Policies: Our findings suggest that policies that support longer family leave may benefit maternal mental health.

Implications for Further Research: Future research should examine how workplace and public policies related to maternal employment can be used to improve families' health outcomes.


Received 11 July 2012; accepted 23 April 2012

Copyright 2012 ICMPE