California's Paid Family Leave Found to Improve Parent Health and Decrease Paternal Alcohol Use

Findings from The effect of California's paid family leave policy on parent health: A quasi-experimental study are described by the author and PTBi policy researcher, Rita Hamad. Additional authors include Bethany C. Lee, Sepideh Modrek, Justin S. White, Akansha Batra and Daniel F. Collin.

Please describe your research findings.

Starting in 2004, California became the first state to provide six weeks of paid leave to new parents. There are now about half a dozen other states that offer paid family leave. We evaluated the California policy and found that it improved overall health among new parents, improving psychological distress among new mothers in particular, and reduced alcohol use among new fathers. 

Paid Family Leave by State

What is important or unique about this study?

This study is one of the first to look at the effects of a U.S. paid family leave policy on the health of parents.

What is already known about this topic, and how do your findings add to or change this existing knowledge?

We already knew that paid family leave increases working parents’ ability to take leave, and also increases breastfeeding. While studies in other countries showed improved parent health, our study added to the literature because the situation in the U.S. is different due to our less generous paid leave policies.

How does your research impact current clinical practice? How does your research impact patients?

Paid family leave is being considered by states around the country, and by the federal government. Currently, the U.S. only offers unpaid leave to new parents, and almost half of workers don’t even qualify. Our study provides evidence that this policy would improve parent health and therefore should be considered seriously by legislators.

What should researchers/providers/patients/public health workers/etc. do as a result of these findings?

These findings support the expansion of paid family leave policies in other states and nationwide as a way to support working families. It is important to note that California’s policy only provides partially paid leave, and doesn’t provide job protection (i.e., employees can still be fired if they take leave, unless they are also covered by FMLA). We should evaluate whether low-income parents are able to take advantage of these policies; it may be that fully paid job-protected leave is better able to support low-income families.

About the Author

Rita Hamad

Dr. Rita Hamad is a member of PTBi's policy core and a social epidemiologist and family physician in the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies and the Department of Family & Community Medicine at UCSF. As the director of the Social Policies for Health Equity Research Program (, her research focuses on the pathways linking poverty and education with health disparities across the life course. Learn More.

Read the full study

The effect of California's paid family leave policy on parent health: A quasi-experimental study