Left Out of Family Leave

Mothers working in the leisure and hospitality industry were the least likely of any workers to say they understood their available paid family benefits and were the least likely to use the benefits they were eligible for.

graphs depicting industry breakdown of family leave benefits

Read Time: 2 minutes


After a new baby is born or adopted, many American parents are forced to make the difficult decision to return to their jobs before they are ready.

The U.S. does not guarantee a single day of paid leave for new parents. Instead, just over half of American workers are eligible for unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act. In most states, access to paid family leave is left entirely to employers.

Holly Elser and colleagues studied paid family leave in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, one of only 9 U.S. states with guaranteed paid family leave in effect. San Francisco provides additional paid leave benefits to eligible workers. Using survey data from the Bay Area Parental Leave Survey of Mothers, the researchers studied working mothers’ knowledge of the available paid family leave benefits and their associations with the mothers’ type of employer.

Mothers who worked in leisure and hospitality were the least likely of any industry to say they understood the maternity paid family leave benefits available to them. They were also less likely to report that their employer helped them to understand these benefits.

The researchers then found corresponding discrepancies in the use of paid family leave. Workers in leisure in hospitality used the fewest number of “full pay equivalent” weeks of leave (a combination of duration of leave and percent of wage replacement) even in San Francisco, which is an outlier in paid family leave generosity.

Parents with less information may have trouble with confusing application paperwork leading them not to use the leave for which they are eligible. Paid family leave is critical for the health of new parents and babies, resulting in better breastfeeding, higher vaccination rates for babies, and fewer depression symptoms for parents.

The researchers recommend using a benefits navigator program to increase the knowledge and use of paid family leave across industries. Local government agencies or community-based organizations could house these navigators to ensure that parents are aware of and enroll in the benefits for which they are eligible.

Databyte via Holly Elser, Connor Williams, William H. Dow, Julia M. Goodman. Inequities in paid parental leave across industry and occupational class: Drivers and simulated policy remedies. SSM – Population Health, 2022.