Child Health in Elementary School following California's Paid Family Leave Program

Tuesday, June 14, 2016: 1:15 PM
G50 (Huntsman Hall)

Author(s): Shirlee Lichtman-Sadot

Discussant: Sally C. Stearns

In 2004, California became the first state in the United States to provide paid maternity leave benefits. California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) program increased the amount of paid leave California mothers were eligible for following the birth of a child from 6-8 weeks to 12-14 weeks. Several papers have shown that mothers’ leave-taking following the birth of a child did indeed increase as a result of California’s PFL (Rossin-Slater et al. 2013; Baum and Ruhm, forthcoming). Furthermore, breastfeeding duration among new mothers increased in California following the program (Huang and Yang 2015). Our paper asks whether California’s PFL had any long-term effects on children’s health outcomes, in particular when they are in kindergarten and first grade. We use data from the Early Child Longitudinal Study (ECLS), documenting children’s health outcomes - such as ear infections, hearing problems, ADHD diagnosis, and overweight – for the kindergarten cohorts of 1999 and 2011. This allows us to utilize a difference-in-difference estimation strategy, which compares child health outcomes for children born before or after the introduction of PFL, either within California or outside of California. Our results show that children born in California after the introduction of PFL experienced a decrease in the likelihood of being diagnosed with hearing problems, ADHD or overweight during kindergarten and first grade. The results are being driven primarily by children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, which is consistent with the notion that PFL was particularly critical for mothers from lower socio-economic backgrounds, without prior leave-taking benefits from their workplace. Our results are robust to using the ECLS 2004/2005 kindergarten cohort data as a placebo test, as well as a variation of the synthetic control method, which allows us to construct a control group of children from outside of California, which are more similar to children in California, in terms of trends in outcomes prior to the introduction of PFL and demographic characteristics.