The dark side of paid parental leave

You see, conservative economics isn’t really about balancing budgets or cutting taxes or deregulation. It’s more about acknowledging policy tradeoffs. Even the best ideas have downsides, and it’s up to policymakers to deal with them. Paid leave is no different.

A 2017 study, by UC Santa Barbara economist Jenna Stearns, of maternity leave policy in Great Britain found that access increases the probability of women returning to work, while job protection benefits result in higher overall maternal employment rates and longer job tenure. Sounds good! But there’s a tradeoff: Expanding job protected leave benefits led to “fewer women holding management positions and other jobs with the potential for promotion.”

Likewise, a 2013 study by Cornell University’s Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn found family-friendly policies indeed make it easier to balance work and family. But they also “leave women less likely to be considered for high-level positions. One’s evaluation of such policies must take both of these effects into account.”

Few economists would be surprised at these analyses.

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