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The Effects of Paid Family Leave on Infant Development

The Brief

The years from birth to five are a critical period in a child’s life. An overwhelming body of research demonstrates that every interaction and every relationship shape a child’s understanding of the world, future brain development, and health and economic outcomes throughout life. Consistent and nurturing relationships with parents or primary caregivers are critical to an infant’s early development.

The years from birth to five are a critical period in a child’s life. An overwhelming body of research demonstrates that every interaction and every relationship shape a child’s understanding of the world, future brain development, and health and economic outcomes throughout life. Consistent and nurturing relationships with parents or primary caregivers are critical to an infant’s early development. Yet, in the United States, one in four new mothers returns to work as early as 10 days after giving birth and quality infant care options for working parents are expensive.

Today, most new parents are in the workforce. Among married couples with children, nearly two-thirds of minor children (63 percent) live in households where both parents work. Close to a quarter of children (23 percent) are living with a single breadwinner mother and about 60 percent of married and non-married women with children under one year old are in the labor force. And while all working parents must balance childcare with work demands, the challenges are particularly acute for new parents.

The challenges of procuring infant care begin immediately for new parents as relatively few people—17 percent of workers—can take paid time off after the birth of a child. The fraction is even lower (only 8 percent) for low-wage workers, who are less likely to have employer-provided paid family leave benefits (see Paid Family Leave: The Basics factsheet).

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