Measuring Family Policy Effects

Nancy Folbre
19 January 2016

About a session organized by the Labor and Employment Relations Association at the meetings of the Allied Social Science Association in San Francisco in early January.

As more family leave policies are being put into place, statistical analysis of their specific effects is coming of age. Variation across different regions and over time makes it possible to apply “difference-in-difference” models that control for the effects of confounding variables and yield relatively reliable estimates. The maturation of research on this topic was evident at a session organized by the Labor and Employment Relations Association at the meetings of the Allied Social Science Association in San Francisco in early January. Two of the papers focused on the effects of paid parental leave on fathers.

In “Paid Family Leave, Fathers’ Leave-Taking, and Leave-Sharing in Dual-Earner Households,” Jenna Stearns and Maya Rossin-Slater of the University of California-Santa Barbara join forces with Ann Bartel and Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University and Christopher J. Ruhm of the University of Virginia to examine the impact of California’s Paid Family Leave program, the first source of government-provided paid parental leave available to fathers in the United States.

They demonstrate a 46% increase (albeit from a pretty low level) in the likelihood that fathers take a leave in their first year of their children’s lives. Fathers in occupations with a high share of female workers are particularly likely to take leaves, perhaps because of a more family-friendly norms or expectations in those jobs.

In “Reserving Time for Daddy: The Short and Long-Run Consequences of Fathers’ Quotas,” Ankita Patnaik of Cornell University shows that the Quebec Parental Insurance Program (QPIP) increased the duration of fathers’ leaves from work by 150%. She also finds evidence that households exposed to the policy were less sex-specialized in their time allocations and labor supply.

The positive health effects for children of paid maternity leave can also be quantified. In “The Effects of Paid Maternity Leave: Evidence from Temporary Disability Insurance,” Jenna Stearns of the University of California-Santa Barbara compares child outcomes in states that began providing Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) in 1978 to pregnant women with those states lacking TDI programs. She finds a significant reduction in the share of early term and low-birth-weight births, particularly among unmarried and black mothers. The TDI experience points to the importance of pre-natal, as well as post-natal leave.

Family policy effects are now documented for Japan, a country concerned about birth rates far below replacement levels. In 2009, the Japanese government mandated a short hour option for workers with children under the age of three who were employed at firms with at least 101 workers. In addition, by 2005, firms with at least 301 workers were required to register plans to improve work-family balance. In “The Effects of a Short-Hour Option on Childbirth and Mothers’ Labor Supply in Japan,” Nobuko Nagase of Ochanomizu University analyzes data from the 2002-2011 waves of the Panel Survey of Young Adults of the 21st Century collected by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. She finds significant increases in both women’s intentions to have children and actual fertility rates, especially among highly-educated women.

All in all, powerful testimony to the value of quantitative research as well as  valuable information for policy advocates.

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