Theses Doctoral

How Low-income Status Interacts With New Mothers’ Awareness and Usage of the New Jersey Paid Family Leave Policy

Bernstein, Sima

New Jersey is one of only three states in the United States offering a paid maternity leave benefit beyond temporary disability insurance at the present time. Understanding the impact of state maternity leave policies on low-income mothers is of particular urgency, since previous research suggests this group is less likely to utilize paid leave than wealthier women. In addition, existing literature also suggests that in a poverty environment, with its already existing vulnerability to social, emotional, cognitive, and health impairments, rapid return to work postpartum may be particularly damaging to the physical and emotional health of both mothers and their babies. This study examines the effectiveness of the New Jersey law mandating payments to postpartum mothers who were employed before giving birth. Using a mixed methods approach, outcomes from high- and low-income mothers were compared regarding the usage and impact of Family Leave Insurance (FLI), New Jersey’s paid family leave policy. For the quantitative study, data from 497 postpartum mothers from the Center for Disease Control’s 2012 Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) data set were analyzed. For the qualitative study, three high- and three low-income mothers from the same New Jersey county were interviewed in depth, and six narrative profiles were constructed. Data from the qualitative and quantitative analyses were combined. Consistent with existing literature, quantitative results suggested poor FLI utilization. However, there was no significant association (p > .05) between low-income status (household income under $22,000) and FLI usage. A statistically significant (p < .05) association between FLI usage and postpartum depression in low-income mothers was noted. Qualitative findings supplemented and explained the quantitative results. The qualitative data suggested policy underutilization stemmed from poor public awareness due to inadequate publicity, lack of community education, and poor advisement on the part of human resource personnel and New Jersey Department of Labor of Workforce Development call-in center advisors. Results also suggest that if parameters of FLI and the awareness of the policy remain the same, the benefits existing research associates with paid maternity leave will not be fully reaped by New Jersey families.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Curriculum and Teaching
Thesis Advisors
Kagan, Sharon L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 2, 2018