Access to Paid Parental Leave and the Health of Young Mothers

Project Details

The research aims are:

  1. to evaluate longitudinal maternal health effects associated with socioeconomic characteristics (including Paid Parental Leave) around the birth of the baby; and
  2. to investigate the social meaning of Paid Parental Leave and how Paid Parental Leave money is managed and spent by first-time mothers.

Project summary

Gender inequalities between men and women persist in access to resources, income levels, labour force participation, and unpaid caring responsibilities. However, governments can enact policies such as Paid Parental Leave to help minimise these inequalities.

As part of this project, we conducted a systematic review of the literature concerning the maternal health effects of paid maternity leave. The findings suggest that there are maternal health benefits associated with paid maternity leave. We also undertook a series of quantitative analyses using longitudinal data from the Australian population. One of these studies investigated the long-term mental health effects associated with young age at first motherhood. We found that young mothers have poorer mental health outcomes in later life compared to older mothers. We also found evidence to suggest that these health disparities increase over time.

We are currently undertaking a qualitative study of first-time mothers who have received Paid Parental Leave. Women are recruited through the Royal Women’s Hospital. We are interested in learning about women’s experiences of receiving Paid Parental Leave, how this money is managed in their household, and how this money impacts on their return-to-work decision-making.


Professor Anne Kavanagh

A/Professor Louise Keogh

A/Professor Belinda Hewitt

Dr Danielle Newton

Zoe Aitken

A/Professor Anthony LaMontagne (School of Health & Social Development; Faculty of Health, Deakin University)

A/Professor Lyle Gurrin

A/Professor Rebecca Bentley


NHMRC Partnership Grant and VicHealth Promotion Foundation

Research Outcomes

Hewitt B, Kavanagh A, Strazdins L, Aitken, Z. Removal of 'double dipping' from parental leave may impact mothers' health. The Conversation, 27 October 2016.

Research Publications

Aitken, Z, Hewiit B, Keogh L, LaMontagne AD, Bentley R, & Kavanagh AM. Young maternal age at first birth and mental health later in life: Does the association vary by birth cohort? Social Science & Medicine.  157, May 2016, 9–17

Garrett C, Keogh L, Hewitt B, Newton D & Kavanagh AM. Young Mothers’ Experiences of Receiving the Baby Bonus: A Qualitative StudyAustralian Social Work, 70 (1) 54-65.

Aitken A, Garret C, Hewitt B, Keogh, L, Hocking J & Kavanagh AM. The maternal health outcomes of paid maternity leave: A systematic review. Social Science & Medicine. 130 (2015) 32-41.

Research Group

Gender and Women's Health

Faculty Research Themes

Child Health

School Research Themes

Disparities, disadvantage and effective health care

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact the research group leader.

Department / Centre

Centre for Health Equity

Unit / Centre

Gender and Women's Health