Children whose mothers have 24 rather than 12 weeks of paid maternity leave show greater cognitive development. What’s more, their mothers experience less parental stress and are more likely to breastfeed their babies. The positive effects are particularly strong for mothers with relatively low levels of education.

These are among the findings of a study of a reform of maternity leave in Chile by Pinjas Albagli and Tomás Rau, published in April issue of The Economic Journal. They show that an extension from 12 to 24 weeks of paid maternity leave is associated with a significant increase in the cognitive development of exposed children in comparison with those not exposed to the reform.

The study also considers the other implications of the reform, such as on breastfeeding which research shows may increase children’s abilities. The researchers find a significant increase in breastfeeding for those benefitting from the reform.

The research finds that mothers also benefit from having extended leave. Mothers exposed to the reform exhibit significantly less parental stress, particularly in relation to handling stressful situations with children. The positive effect of the reform on maternal mental health may also have beneficial effects on child development, the authors say.

These findings are relevant for the policy discussion on parental leave. While most of the recent evidence based in developed countries shows little or no impact of maternity leave expansions on children’s outcomes, the study shows that this type of reforms can have positive effects in medium-high income countries.

The Effects of a Maternity Leave Reform on Children’s Abilities and Maternal Outcomes in Chile’ by Pinjas Albagli and Tomás Rau is published in the April issue of The Economic Journal

Pinjas Albagli

London School of Economics and Political Science

Tomás Rau

Instituto de Economía, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile