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Paid leave in OECD countries

Parental and medical leave policies allow employees to take time off work for pregnancy and birth, for personal illness, or to care for sick children, parents and spouses. By 2013, all OECD countries other than the United States offered some form of national paid leave policy. Over the past two decades, there have been hundreds of changes to legislation governing paid leave from work. Although recent trends are towards more generous benefits and government-mandated leave, there is still substantial variation in allowances and benefits, both cross-nationally and sub-nationally. The wide variation in the design and generosity of leave policies may result in heterogeneous effects, both across economic, social, and health outcomes and across population groups.

From a population health perspective, parental leave policies have the potential to influence health over the life-course.[i] Leave provides time for preventive care, from immunizations for infants to preventive care visits for adults and children. Leave makes time available for health-promoting behaviors from breastfeeding infants to caring for family members. Access to paid leave might increase use of health services for those with covered health conditions as well as adults caring for their children and family members. By reducing conflict between work and family responsibilities, job-protected paid leave might reduce stress related to pregnancy, personal illness, and the demands of caregiving for family members.

Evaluations of paid parental leave document impacts on infant and child mortality, with benefits largely concentrated in the post-neonatal period. For example, Ruhm (2000) and Tanaka (2005) showed that a 10-week extension of paid leave was associated with a roughly 2.5 percent decrease in infant mortality and a 3 percent decrease in child mortality.

The Paid Family and Medical Leave research project is examining paid leave policies in the United States and across the OECD. So far, the team has examined the health effects of paid parental leave in California and New Jersey on infants, and the impact of paid leave on employment in European OECD countries.


[i] Burtle and Bezruchka 2016