Family Leave after Childbirth and the Health of New Mothers

38 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2008 Last revised: 6 Sep 2021

See all articles by Pinka Chatterji

Pinka Chatterji

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Sara Markowitz

Emory University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: July 2008


In the United States, almost a third of new mothers who worked during pregnancy return to work within three months of childbirth. Current public policies in the U.S. do not support long periods of family leave after childbirth, although some states are starting to change this. As such, it is vital to understand how length of family leave during the first year after childbirth affects families' health and wellbeing. The purpose of this paper is to examine the association between family leave length, which includes leave taking by mothers and fathers, and behavioral and physical health outcomes among new mothers. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study - Birth Cohort, we examine measures of depression, overall health status, and substance use. We use a standard OLS as well as an instrumental variables approach with county-level employment conditions and state-level maternity leave policies as identifying instruments. The results suggest that longer maternity leave from work, both paid and un-paid, is associated with declines in depressive symptoms, a reduction in the likelihood of severe depression, and an improvement in overall maternal health. We also find that having a spouse that did not take any paternal leave after childbirth is associated with higher levels of maternal depressive symptoms. We do not find, however, that length of paternal leave is associated with overall maternal health, and we find only mixed evidence that leave length after childbirth affects maternal alcohol use and smoking.

Suggested Citation

Chatterji, Pinka and Markowitz, Sara, Family Leave after Childbirth and the Health of New Mothers (July 2008). NBER Working Paper No. w14156, Available at SSRN:

Pinka Chatterji (Contact Author)

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Sara Markowitz

Emory University ( email )

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