In Defense of Paid Family Leave


In this article I defend state provision of paid family leave. Such a program would allow workers to take compensated time off work to care for a newborn infant or ill family member. I normatively ground my claim in the argument that paid leave would allow women, who have historically performed a disproportionate share of family caregiving labor, to participate more fully in the paid workforce. This enhancement in labor force participation, I argue, would in turn increase women's independence and capacity to determine the conditions of their lives. In taking this position, I distinguish myself from those who would make family care subsidies available equally to caregivers who do and do not participate in the paid workforce, as well as from those who would shun workplace accommodations in favor of more "commodified" provision of care, external to the family. Ultimately, I argue, workers have a non-fungible demand for personal time away from work to engage in family caregiving, and absent accommodation of this kind, some women will limit, truncate, or eliminate participation in paid market labor. At the same time, I caution against overly generous leave provision; too generous a program threatens to undermine women's development of human capital and attachment to the workforce. Moreover, the state should spread at least some of the costs of the program beyond those workers (women in their childbearing years) most likely to take leave.


Economics | Insurance Law | Labor and Employment Law | Law and Gender

Date of this Version

March 2004