Partisanship, Christianity, and Women in the Legislature: Determinants of Parental Leave Policy in U.S. States


  • A previous version of this article was presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, March–April 2011. We acknowledge the helpful comments of Andrew Karch, Michelle Swers, Clyde Wilcox, and two anonymous reviewers. We will share all data and coding with those wishing to replicate the study.



Although the United States 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act is considered meager by international standards, significant variation in family leave policies exists across U.S. states. This article develops a political theory—driven by mobilized interest groups—to explain variation in the duration and pay level of state parental leave policies.


Employing four different measures of family leave policy, we use ordinary least squares and logit models to test the effects of partisanship, women in the legislature, and evangelical populations on parental leave outcomes.


We find that states with a pattern of Democratic Party controlled legislatures and high percentages of legislative seats occupied by women see more generous parental leave protections, while states with large populations of evangelical Christians see less generous policies.


Family leave policies are the product of a battle between competing visions of the family and the state, shaped by partisanship, gender, and religion.