Approximately half of working women who gave birth to their first child between 2006 and 2008 did not receive any paid maternity or sick leave for their pregnancy, according to a U.S. Census report released this week.
Two-thirds of women who were given maternity leave were able to return to work within a year of their first pregnancy, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in Washington.
However, a higher percentage of women were being fired from their jobs either during or after their first pregnancy between 2006 and 2008 than had been over the prior 30 years, the report found.
The report, which examines maternity leave trends from 1961 through 2008, found that 51 percent of female workers were given paid maternity leave for their first pregnancies during 2006 through 2008, an increase of 9% over totals taken from 1996 to 2000. By contrast in 1981—the first year maternity leave arrangements are addressed in the report—just 37.3 percent of women had access to such leave.
"The last three decades have seen major changes in the work patterns of expectant mothers," said Lynda Laughlin, a family demographer at the Census Bureau, said in a statement released Nov. 10. "Access to paid leave makes it possible for mothers to care for their newborns and maintain financial stability."
Though the overall number of women receiving paid leave increased in the past decade, the percentage of women let go from their jobs during or after their pregnancy more than doubled in the same period, from 2.2 percent in 2000 to 4.7 percent in 2008, the highest recorded percentage since 1981. The report noted that Hispanic women were almost twice as likely to be fired during or after their first pregnancy as white and non-Hispanic women (8.1 percent vs. 4.1 percent, respectively), and that single mothers were twice as likely to be fired as their married counterparts.
The number of women who quit their jobs during or after their first pregnancy continued to decline, dropping from 35.7 percent from 1961 through 1965 to 21.9 percent from 2006 through 2008.
Workers' access to paid leave varied greatly based on their age, education and nature of employment. Sixty-one percent of women over age 25 were given paid leave for their first pregnancy, compared to just 24 percent of women age 22 and under. Around 66% of women with a bachelor's degree or higher were given paid time off, while just 18 percent of women without a high school diploma were able to get paid maternity leave. Additionally, full-time workers were 35 percent more likely to receive paid maternity leave benefits than part-time workers.
The report also examined return-to-work trends among first-time mothers. Between 1961 and 1965, just 16 percent of first-time mothers returned to work within a year of their child's birth. Forty years later, more than 68 percent of women were back to work within a year of their first pregnancy. About 66 percent of first-time mothers worked at least part-time during their pregnancy between 2006 and 2008, and eight out of every 10 of those women worked up until one month or less prior to their child's birth. In the 1961 through 1965 period, those percentages were 44 percent and 34 percent, respectively.