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Do flexible work policies improve parents' health? A natural experiment based on the UK Millennium Cohort Study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Mauricio Avendano, Lidia Panico

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-251
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health
Issue number3
Early online date12 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


King's Authors


BACKGROUND: There is limited evidence of the impact of policies to promote work-family balance on family health. Exploiting the introduction of the UK Flexible Working Act (2003), we examined whether a policy that grants parentsthe right to requestflexible work influences their health and well-being.

METHODS: Using the UK Millennium Cohort Study, we focus on 6424 mothers employed in 2001-2002, when the cohort child was 9 months old, until their child's seventh birthday. We used a difference-in-differences (DiD) approach to compare changes in outcomes before and after the policy among mothers most likely to benefit and mothers unlikely to benefit from the policy.

RESULTS: Flexible working increased in a small group of mothers (n=548) whose employer did not offer work flexibility before the reform (treatment group). By contrast, among mothers whose employer already offered flexible work before the reform (control group, n=5810), there was little change or a slight decline in flexible working. DiD estimates suggest that the policy was associated with an increase in flexible working (37.5 percentage points, 95% CI 32.9 to 41.6), but it had no impact on self-rated health (-1.6 percentage points, 95% CI -4.4 to 1.1), long-term illness (-1.87 percentage points, 95% CI -4.3 to 0.5) or life satisfaction scores (β=0.04, 95% CI -0.08 to 0.16).

CONCLUSION: The Flexible Working Act increased flexible working only among a small group of mothers who had not yet the right to request work flexibility, but it had no impact on their health and well-being. Policies promoting work flexibility may require stronger incentives for both parents and employers.

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