As part of their ongoing work evaluating the 2017 San Francisco Paid Parental Leave Ordinance, which provides six weeks of fully paid parental leave, investigators Julia M. Goodman (Oregon Health & Science University/Portland State University), William H. Dow and Holly Elser (University of California, Berkeley) published an issue brief documenting leave-taking trends of working mothers and presenting results from a survey of Bay Area employers on their perspectives complying with the ordinance.


To date, the team’s assessment of the San Francisco Paid Parental Leave Ordinance has produced several key takeaways:

  • Before the ordinance took effect, lower-income women were less likely to take over six weeks of leave; were less likely to receive pay from the government or their employer during their leave; and were offered shorter amounts of leave at a lower wage replacement rate by their employers than higher income women.
  • The ordinance significantly increased the proportion of San Francisco employers offering paid parental leave. In 2018, 75 percent of San Francisco employers with 20 or more employees offered paid parental or family leave, compared to 44 percent in 2016.
  • Few employers reported negative impacts of changing their paid leave policies, and some reported positive impacts. However, many employers reported difficulty understanding legal requirements and responsibilities for compliance.
  • Overall, employer support for the ordinance is high. Seventy-eight percent of employers reported being supportive or very supportive of the PPLO while only 6 percent were opposed.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Countering claims that mandated family and parental leave hurts business owners, this work finds little evidence that implementing new policies or expanding existing paid leave policies negatively affects employers. Overall, just 28 percent of firms that implemented new policies or expanded existing policies reported subsequent changes for their business, employees, or customers. At the same time, 19 percent of firms reported improved employee morale and 17 percent reported improved retention.

However, this enthusiastic uptake should not mask the likely continued income disparities in access to parental leave. Despite well-documented benefits of parental leave, the U.S. remains the only high-income country in the world without systematic paid leave benefits for new parents. Although California’s 2004 paid family leave law – which introduced nearly universal private sector coverage – made considerable progress in addressing unmet need for wage replacement during leave, critical gaps remained – especially for low-income families. In ongoing work, the team is specifically evaluating the ordinance’s impacts on low-income women to see if this more generous policy can help close the gap for families of limited means.

Note: Funding for this issue brief was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and pre-dates support provided by Policies for Action. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation.

Related Evidence

  • Published July 1, 2020

    Paid family and medical leave has important health benefits for parents and their children, but access to job-protected leave is limited and highly disparate in the United States. Increasingly, state and local governments have established policies such as paid leave to support parents and other caregivers. While these policies have been crucial in enabling more workers to take leave, their effects have been weakened due to only partial coverage of job protection laws. As part of their ongoing work evaluating the 2017 San Francisco Paid Parental Leave Ordinance, investigators Julia M. Goodman (Oregon Health & Science University/Portland State University) and William H. Dow (University of California, Berkeley) published an issue brief examining paid leave protections in the California Bay Area.

    View Evidence

  • Published July 7, 2020

    Paid family leave policies have the potential to reduce health disparities, yet access to paid leave remains limited and unevenly distributed in the United States. The US is the only OECD country that does not provide paid leave for new parents, and just 8 states and the District of Columbia have passed partially-paid family leave policies. In a new paper, Julia Goodman of the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, Will Dow of UC Berkeley, and Holly Elser of Stanford University examine the impact of the 2017 San Francisco Paid Parental Leave Ordinance (PPLO), the first in the US to provide parental leave with full pay. 

    View Evidence

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