Parental leave schemes undoubtedly facilitate the combination of work and family life during leave-taking. In addition to this instantaneous effect of parental leave uptake, a growing yet limited body of research addresses the question of subsequent effects of parental leave uptake. As work-family policies, such as parental leave, are geared towards stimulating family formation and (female) employment, this study assessed whether the individual uptake of parental leave by employed mothers after the birth of a child yielded differential parity progression and employment patterns compared to eligible employed mothers that did not take leave. Using data from the Belgian Administrative Socio-Demographic panel, we applied dynamic propensity score matching and hazard models. Our results indicate that previous leave uptake is a differentiating factor in subsequent fertility and employment outcomes, but also that (self-)selection strongly affects this relation. Descriptive analyses indicate that mothers who use leave shortly after childbearing exhibit a similar progression to second births, more third births and less fourth births, while displaying substantially lower hazards of exiting the labour force regardless of parity. However, when controlling for the fact that mothers who use parental leave exhibit a stronger pre-birth attachment to the labour force, work for larger employers in specific employment sectors, and also differ from non-users in terms of household characteristics (e.g., higher household income, more likely to be married and less likely to have a non-Belgian background), many associations between leave uptake and subsequent fertility and employment outcomes turn neutral or even negative. No indication for higher parity progression among leave users was found and the hazard of exiting the labour force was moderately higher for leave users. These empirical results are discussed in the Belgian context of low parental leave benefits, short leave entitlements and low uptake of parental leave, features which are also displayed by other Western European countries and contrast with the Nordic European countries studied in previous research.
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