The Lancet Public Health
Parental Leave -- Case studies, Workplace -- Policies
In The Lancet Public Health, Katharine M Barry and colleagues and Amy Heshmati and colleagues focus on the important association between paid leave uptake and mental health among new parents. In their systematic review, Heshmati and colleagues report that parental leave could be protective against poor mental health for mothers in the post-partum period, especially paid leave of at least 2–3 months. They found some evidence that fathers’ mental health improved in the presence of policies that provided adequate wage replacement or other incentives to take leave, but did not find strong evidence for indirect effects of parental leave use on partners’ mental health. Barry and colleagues used a nationally representative survey (the Etude Longitudinale Française depuis l’Enfance cohort study) to examine the association between a 2-week paid paternity leave policy and post-partum depression among new parents in France. They found that paternity leave was associated with a decrease in fathers’ post-partum depression 2 months after the birth of their child; however, they reported an increase in mothers’ post-partum depression when their partners took paternity leave. Barry and colleagues’ findings have important implications for contexts outside of France because the average leave length among fathers in countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is 2 weeks. Although neither of the studies draws on equity theories directly, they expose the limitations of current paid parental leave policies. Together, these studies raise questions about how much leave is needed to improve parents’ mental health and highlight the importance of leave uptake by both mothers and fathers through their exploration of indirect effects. Research on paid leave needs to take an intersectional approach to understand differential access to paid leave and its potential benefits. Other sociodemographic characteristics such as income, education, race, ethnicity, citizenship, and place of residence can influence the likelihood of having access to paid leave, therefore realising the mental health benefits identified by the two studies. Policies aimed at improving population health that do not apply an equity lens might be detrimental to the most vulnerable groups (eg, low-wage, part-time, or migrant workers) by expanding inequities in access to paid leave.
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Locate the Document
Goodman, J. M., & Poma, L. D. (2023). Paid parental leave and mental health: the importance of equitable policy design. The Lancet Public Health, 8(1), e2-e3.