Deciding on leave: how US women in dual-earner couples decide on maternity leave length

Medora W. Barnes, John Carroll University


This research contributes to the dialogue on maternity leave policy in the United States through analysing how pregnant school teachers with access to extended maternity leave decide how long a leave to take. The lived experiences of new mothers are examined through a series of longitudinal interviews with 16 public school teachers conducted at three points over the course of the transition to parenthood (pregnancy through first year). Findings indicate that although financial reasons played a large role in women deciding to return to work more quickly, issues of professional identity and personal happiness were also meaningful. Additionally, holding gendered parenting ideologies and being uncomfortable with available childcare options were important in the decision to take an extended leave.