Paid Maternity Leave Use Trending Up

November 14, 2011 ( – Fifty-one percent of working women who had their first birth between 2006 and 2008 received paid leave (i.e. maternity leave, sick leave, vacation) compared with 42% between 1996 and 2000, according to a report released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data shows the likelihood that a mother has access to paid leave varies with age, hours worked, and education. About 24% of women under age 22 used paid leave compared with 61% of women 25 and older. Full-time workers were more likely to use paid-leave benefits than part-time workers (56% and 21%, respectively). Women who have not graduated from high school are less likely to use paid maternity leave as women who have graduated from college.  

Four out of 10 (42%) women received unpaid maternity leave. Both paid and unpaid maternity leave were more likely to be used after birth than before.  

According to the report, 22% of first time mothers quit their jobs — 16% while they were pregnant and another 6% by 12 weeks after their child’s birth.  

Women who worked during their pregnancy are more likely to return to work within three to five months compared with women who did not work before the birth of their first child. Eight out of 10 mothers who worked during their pregnancy returned to work within a year of their child’s birth to the same employer. About seven out of 10 of these women returned to a job at the same pay, skill level, and hours worked per week.  

Two out of 10 mothers switched employers when returning to work. These mothers experienced greater job changes compared with mothers who returned to the same employer. One out of four was employed at a new job that had comparable pay, skill level, and hours worked.  

Other highlights of the report include: 

  • Women are more likely to work while pregnant than they did in the 1960s. Two-thirds (66%) of women who had their first birth between 2006 and 2008 worked during pregnancy, compared with 44% who had their first birth between 1961 and 1965. 
  • Eight out of 10 (82%) working women who had their first birth between 2006 and 2008 worked within one month of their child’s birth compared with 73% of working women who gave birth to their first child between 1991 and 1995. 
  • Older mothers are more likely than younger mothers to work closer to the end of their pregnancies. Sixty-seven percent of mothers 22 and older worked into the last month of their pregnancy, compared with 56% of mothers less than age 22. 
The report, Maternity Leave and Employment Patterns of First-Time Mothers: 1961-2008, is available at