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Gender Differences in Family and Medical Leave Experiences

Jane Herr, Radha Roy, and Jacob Alex Klerman, Abt Global


March 9, 2021

Using data from the 2018 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Employee Survey, this paper explores gender differences in the need for leave and taking of leave from work for a family or medical reason—either for one’s own serious health condition or to care for someone else.

The study examined employees’ use of leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year to qualifying employees for specified family and medical leave reasons and up to 26 weeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for a service member. While there is no requirement in FMLA that employers provide any pay during the leave, employees may have access to pay while on leave through means such as vacation and sick leave or state-paid family leave.

Key findings include:

  • More women than men need leave and take leave, yet more women have unmet need for leave.
  • Women and men need and take leave from work for the same reasons: approximately 50 percent for their own health, 30 percent to care for someone else, and 20 percent for a new child.
  • Women take longer leaves on average compared to men, primarily because women take longer leaves for a new child.
  • While on leave, fewer women than men receive full pay (32 percent versus 55 percent), and more receive no pay (41 percent versus 25 percent). Longer leaves for women don’t fully explain this difference.
  • Single and partnered women take leave at the same rate and take equally long leaves, but more single women take leave for their own health.
  • More single women than partnered women receive no pay while on leave (52 percent versus 33 percent), and more single women lose their job because of taking leave (15 percent versus 3 percent).

Gender Differences in Needing and Taking Leave - Full Report

Leave Experiences by Gender and Wages - Short Brief