Extended maternity leave does not improve test scores

A new working paper from the US National Bureau of Economic Research investigates whether prolonged paid and protected maternity leave has an effect on children’s cognitive development. The authors used data from Austria, where a change in policy in 1990 extended maternity leave entitlement from one year to two years. Most women – around 80% – took the full entitlement. The authors looked at the effect this change had on test scores at age 15, using standardised assessments in mathematics, reading, and scientific literacy from the international PISA study.

The paper found no significant overall impact of the extended parental leave mandate on standardised test scores at age 15. However, subgroup analyses by maternal education and child gender points to significant positive effects for children of highly educated mothers, especially for boys. In contrast, schooling outcomes of children from less-well-educated mothers seem to have been harmed (boys have lower test scores and girls have a higher likelihood of being in a lower grade). The authors note that it is an open question as to how much these potential negative effects could be mitigated or reversed through a high-quality formal day care system.

Source: Parental Leave and Children’s Schooling Outcomes: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from a Large Parental Leave Reform (2013), National Bureau of Economic Research.

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