The long-run effect of maternity leave benefits on mental health: Evidence from European countries

This paper examines whether maternity leave policies have an effect on women’s mental health in older age. We link data for women aged 50 years and above from countries in the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) to data on maternity leave legislation from 1960 onwards. We use a difference-in-differences approach that exploits changes over time within countries in the duration and compensation of maternity leave benefits, linked to the year women were giving birth to their first child at age 16 to 25. We compare late-life depressive symptom scores (measured with a 12-item version of the Euro-D scale) of mothers who were in employment in the period around the birth of their first child to depression scores of mothers who were not in employment in the period surrounding the birth of a first child, and therefore did not benefit directly from maternity leave benefits. Our findings suggest that a more generous maternity leave during the birth of a first child is associated with a reduced score of 0.38 points in the Euro-D depressive symptom scale in old age.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.


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