Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name



Political Science

First Advisor

Ewa Golebiowska


In 1963, President John F. Kennedy’s Commission on the Status of Women found that the lack of income security during pregnancy and childbearing “one of the major remaining gaps in the protection of workers against losses of income,” (American Women 1963, p. 27). Despite popular support for such a policy, the United States remains one of only three countries that does not have a such a policy (OECD, 2017). Commentators have argued that the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was successful due to the diverse coalition behind it which included feminist groups and conservative religious organizations alike. The coalition was built largely on rhetoric that framed the benefits of the FMLA—which offered unpaid but protected job leave to certain workers—as being pro-family, specifically by allowing women to maintain their duties as mothers while still being able to work. The coalition’s work led to the enactment of the FMLA despite being stymied by two presidential vetoes along the way.

Many contemporary policy entrepreneurs believe such messaging about the benefits of paid parental leave is essential to the success of any potential national policy. No empirical study exists that examines why the United States is such an outlier in this area and what type of policy framing is more persuasive when it comes to paid parental leave policy. In accordance with the push behind the FMLA and more contemporary movements, the overall hypothesis of this study is that individuals are more likely to support a paid parental leave policy when it is framed as benefitting families than when the policy is framed as being economically advantageous.

To test this hypothesis, I conducted an experiment using Amazon’s MTurk platform. Participants were exposed to one of six conditions (or a control) that contained a variation of two manipulations: a beneficiary manipulation and a cost setting manipulation. I also utilized a pretest and posttest to measure demographic attributes, sociopolitical characteristics, experiences with traditional gender roles, and gender role beliefs. I find that there is little if any support for the use of a family benefits frame that centers the benefits of paid family leave on the family. Instead, there is support that among some groups such as conservatives and those who have experienced traditional gender roles in childhood that an economic benefits frame garners more policy support. The results of the study also indicate that the costs associated with a paid parental leave policy are salient and that there is significantly more support for the policy when such costs are split evenly between employers and government rather than borne exclusively by either one.