NEW YORK – The United States is one of only seven countries worldwide that doesn’t provide a national paid family leave benefit for workers who need to stay at home to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member. In the absence of a federal program, nine states and the District of Columbia have adopted programs to assist workers. In January 2022, Connecticut’s new program went into effect, allowing workers to become eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for qualified medical and family reasons.
But even as some states move forward on this new benefit, many policymakers at the national and state level oppose the benefit, arguing that paid family leave is too costly for the business community. But new research from Columbia Business School dispels that idea, finding that support for paid family leave among small businesses increased in the months leading up to the pandemic and has consistently grown since.
In the study, Support for Paid Family Leave Among Small Employers Increases During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Ann Bartel, Merrill Lynch Professor of Workforce Transformation at Columbia Business School and her co-authors Stanford University Professor Maya Rossin-Slater, University of Virginia Professor Christopher Ruhm, and Columbia University School of Social Work Professor Jane Waldfogel and PhD candidate Meredith Slopen, had companies with 10-99 employees rank their level of support. The research shows as more companies gained familiarity with paid family leave programs during the pandemic, their support for paid family leave increased over time.
“Once companies experienced paid family leave, they were more supportive of it,” said Ann Bartel. “It seems companies without any experience with paid family leave may have a slight fear of the unknown, however, the data shows that year over year the support has increased. In 2020 as the pandemic changed how we work and live, we saw the highest level of support.”
The study took place in the New York and New Jersey area analyzing data from 539 companies across different sectors from 2016 to 2020. Participants rated their level of support for the paid family leave programs in those two states on a five-point scale, ranging from very supportive to very opposed. The responses were then collapsed into three categories: supportive (including very and somewhat supportive), neutral, and opposed (including very and somewhat opposed).
- Among employers interviewed in both fall 2019 and fall 2020, the share reporting that they were very or somewhat supportive of paid family leave rose by 9.1 percentage points, from 61.6% to 70.7%
- The corresponding share of companies who were somewhat or very opposed to paid family leave declined by 9.6 points, from 20.0% to 10.4%
- In 2019 companies with 10-49 employees were 2.5 times more likely to support paid family leave
“Drawing on data collected immediately prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we
provide new evidence on employer attitudes towards state paid family leave programs. Attitudes provide useful information because they summarize employers’ overall experiences with the programs,” Bartel said. “Paid family leave continues to be a hot button topic among policymakers and media; however, this data provides evidence that lack of support among small businesses should no longer be a factor in preventing the passing of paid family leave programs.”
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researcher
Professor Bartel is the Merrill Lynch Professor of Workforce Transformation at Columbia Business School and the Director of Columbia Business School's Workforce Transformation...Read more.