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Paid parental leave increases fertility intentions

25 March 2016
Call for more research on scheme's birth rate impact

More than five years after Australia's PPL scheme was introduced a new study suggests it has a 'bonus effect' on fertility intentions.

An office worker holds a child. Image: iStock

More research is needed to understand the nuances of PPL schemes and fertility. Image: iStock

Paid parental leave schemes can increase the number of children women intend to have, University of Sydney research suggests.

Dr Hayler Fisher and Micaela Bassford of the School of Economics analysed data on the fertility intentions and paid maternity leave access of employed women between the ages of 21 and 45.

For every three women already intending to have more children, access to paid maternity leave schemes increases the total number of children they wish to have by one. Women with above Year 12 education drive this increase, the researchers found.

Australia's low fertility rate

Fertility rates across the developed world are declining and Australia’s own ratio of births to deaths is too low to replenish the population on its own.

“Paid parental should be part of a suite of policies to encourage fertility rates,” said Dr Fisher.  

“For example, paid parental leave and childcare provision are complements in encouraging fertility. However, by enabling mothers to combine continued working and childbearing, paid parental leave loosens the constraint on having more than one child.”

Bonus babies?

Dr Fisher said additional research is needed to determine if increased fertility intentions result in actual childbirths.

“We also don’t yet know if making paid parental leave more generous — through a higher payment rate or a longer duration — would increase the impact of the paid leave on fertility intentions,” said Dr Fisher.

The research is published in a Life Course Centre working paper.

Australia’s paid parental leave scheme was introduced five years ago. It provides 18 weeks of leave paid at the full-time minimum wage for a child’s primary carer. Existing research has shown that paid maternity leave increases mothers’ attachment to the labour force, promotes female labour force participation, and has positive health effects for mothers and children. 

The research extends these benefits to enabling women to have a second or third child.