Longer Parental Leave Linked to Better School Performance
Last year’s passage of an amended Maternity Benefit Act was heralded as a large step in the right direction. One big plus was the extension of paid leave to six months, for biological mothers, which takes on new relevance in light of recent research linking longer parental leave to later school performance.
Per the Guardian:
The research found that the children of highly educated, middle-class parents gained “large and significantly positive effects” in later exam results if their parents took longer periods of paid leave after they were born.
It should be noted here that the study associated these effects with both longer maternity and paternity leave, and focused on Austria, where mothers and fathers are allowed 24 months of paid parental leave starting from the birth of their child. (Previously, Austrian policy had allowed 12 months of paid parental leave, allowing researchers to examine school performance associated with different lengths of leave.)
Austria has one of the most generous parental leave policies in the world. While only six months of paid maternity leave still puts India among the top (for mothers), the potentially positive effect on children’s cognition might not be evident as soon as hoped. The researchers found that children of parents with no education beyond secondary school, who took longer parental leave, scored lower on exams as teenagers, possibly the result of parents’ “reduced time and material resources” and shorter gaps between having children — an important finding to note, for country where only 4.5% of the population is educated up to the graduate level.
The paper’s authors say their findings are especially relevant for countries where, as in India, there is little access to formal childcare outside the home for children aged two and under. And indeed, while it validates the Centre’s decision last year to extend paid maternity leave, it also highlights the flaws of the MBA amendment, providing a roadmap for how the law will need to be improved in the future, as the level of education increases among the broader population. Equal paternity leave and leave for mothers of adopted or surrogate children must be the next step, if India wants to set up its next generation for success.