Press Releases

1999 Releases

Paid Leave Best Predictor of Parents' Ability to Care for Sick Children

For immediate release: August 12, 1999 

Boston, MA--A parent's ability to care for a sick child depends upon the availability of paid leave, according to new research from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Pennsylvania.

Previous research has proven that sick children fare better when their parents are present to provide health care. Whether the child's illness be chronic or acute and whether the treatment be at home or in the hospital, parental involvement helps children heal better and faster.

Yet, with a large percentage of parents in the work force, who can be there to care for a sick child? In 1997, 65% of mothers of preschool children were working, while 78% of mothers of school-aged children worked. Over 95% of fathers worked.

The availability of paid leave from the workplace, either in the form of sick time or vacation time, provides opportunities for parents to spend time with their sick children. According to a study, "Working Parents: What Factors Are Involved in Their Ability to Take Time Off from Work when Their Children Are Sick?," published in the August issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, parents who had paid sick or vacation leave were 5.2 times as likely to care for their sick children, compared to parents without paid leave options.

The study population consisted of mixed-income parents aged 26 to 29 years old who participated in the Baltimore Parenthood Study. Lead author S. Jody Heymann explained: "Using multivariate analysis, we were able to control for variables including income, educational attainment, gender, single-parent vs. two-parent households, and part-time vs. full-time workers. What we found was that none of these things mattered in the face of available paid leave. It doesn't matter if youre rich or poor, single or married, black or white--if you have paid leave available, as either sick or vacation time, then you're likely to use it to care for your sick children. Alternatively, those who don't have paid leave available are forced to leave the care of their children to others."

This research provides critical information relevant to legislation currently under consideration in the US Senate and state legislatures across the country.

Heymann said: "There are a wide range of ideas under consideration at the state and federal level that would improve the lives of working families by providing paid leave. As they are considered, we need to keep in mind the importance of ensuring coverage for all working Americans--not just some--and ensuring that there isn't discrimination against employees who use the leave."

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu