Lea Bart

Hello ! I am a PhD Candidate in Economics at the University of Michigan studying the interactions between government policies, childbearing, and women and families' outcomes.  Much of my research interest lies in the experiences of low-income families, and the tradeoffs inherent in how the labor supply incentives of transfer programs like TANF and the EITC shape the period around birth.  My current work uses linked administrative data to study the dynamic effects of job protected maternity leave on women's labor market experiences. 

Contact: leajbart@umich.edu



Who is Financially Constrained in Their Choice of Contraception? Lessons from M-CARES (with Martha Bailey, Alexa Prettyman, Vanessa Wanner Lang, and Vanessa Dalton)

The Michigan Contraceptive Access, Research, and Evaluation Study (M-CARES) is a randomized control trial that examines how financial constraints affect the choice of contraceptives among uninsured individuals. Although all M-CARES participants are highly financially constrained, these constraints are more binding in some subgroups. Black women, women with less than a high school degree, and women with incomes above 250 percent of the federal poverty line are less financially constrained, whereas married women and those with three or more children are more financially constrained. A mediation analysis shows that attitudes and beliefs about contraception do not explain this heterogeneity across groups. 

The Missing Baby Bust: The Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic for Contraceptive Use, Pregnancy, and Childbirth among Low-Income Women (with Martha Bailey and Vanessa Lang) 

Multiple episodes in US history demonstrate that birth rates fall in response to recessions. However, the 2020 COVID-19 recession differed from earlier periods in that employment and access to contraception and abortion fell, as reproductive health centers across the country temporarily closed or reduced their capacity. This paper exploits novel survey and administrative data to examine how reductions in access to reproductive health care during 2020 affected contraceptive efficacy among low-income women. Accounting for 2020’s reductions in access to contraception and the economic slowdown, our results predict a modest decline in births of 1.1 percent in 2021 for low-income women. Further accounting for reductions in access to abortion implies that birth rates may even rise for low-income women. These results also suggest that already economically disadvantaged families disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 economy will experience a large increase in unplanned births.

Working Papers

The Effects of the Family and Medical Leave Act on Women's Careers (Job Market Paper)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 revolutionized women’s ability to balance their family and careers, increasing the share of women with access to maternity leave by 40 percentage points. Over 30 years later, the evidence on the FMLA’s effect on women’s employment and earnings after childbirth is unable to rule out economically meaningful effects.  I fill this knowledge gap by bringing together population-level administrative data on birth timing and quarterly earnings to compare the post-birth outcomes of women whose job tenures make them eligible versus not eligible for FMLA leave. I find that being eligible for the FMLA increases the probability that women are employed one year after giving birth by 3.6%, driven by women being more likely to remain working for their pre-birth employers. FMLA eligibility also increases women’s earnings in the year after giving birth by $3,000, the same size as the maximum EITC credit for a one child household in 2010. This earnings effect persists up to six years after the child’s birth, with annual earnings still $2,000 higher among women eligible for the FMLA.

Optimal Transfers with Children's Utility (with Emily Horton)

This paper estimates the optimal tax and transfer system when the social planner's objective is to maximize utility of all individuals, including children, and can use household composition as a fixed tag. While existing research has estimated optimal transfer schedules, it has typically done so only in the context of adults, or without considering children's utility as part of the planner's objective function. Given the large extent to which U.S. transfer policy prioritizes redistribution to children, children’s consumption needs are of first order importance to optimal transfer policy analysis. We simulate the optimal tax and transfer system for unmarried households accounting for children’s consumption, adults’ consumption, and adults’ labor supply responses on the intensive and extensive margin. We place particular emphasis on estimating the optimal transfers to non-earning households of different compositions, and compare these estimates to expected benefits for non-earners in the United States. We find that current transfers to non-earners are well below optimal for all unmarried households, especially those with children.

How Costs Limit Contraceptive Use among Low-Income Women in the U.S.: A Randomized Control Trial (with Martha Bailey, Vanessa Lang, Alexa Prettyman, Iris Vrioni, Daniel Eisenberg, Paula Fomby, Jennifer Barber, and Vanessa Dalton)

The Affordable Care Act eliminated cost-sharing for contraception for Americans with health insurance, but substantial cost sharing remains for uninsured individuals who seek care through Title X—a national family planning program that provides patient-centered, subsidized contraception and reproductive health services in the U.S. This paper uses a randomized control trial (RCT) to examine how cost-sharing at Title X providers affects the choice of contraceptive method. The study randomizes vouchers that cover any contraceptive method up to the cost of 50% or 100% of a name-brand intra-uterine device (IUD). The results show that Title X clients are highly constrained by the out-of-pocket costs of contraception. The offer of free contraception is associated with a 40% increase in the use of any birth control method (ITT effect), a 94% increase in the value of birth control purchased, a 328-day (226%) increase in the period covered by contraceptives purchased, and a 324% increase in the likelihood of choosing a long-acting, reversible method (an IUD or implant). The results imply that eliminating the costs of contraception for Title X clients nationwide would reduce undesired pregnancies by 5.3%, birth rates by 3.9%, and abortions by 8.3%, and save $1.43 billion in the first year of the program.

Works in Progress

“Effects of Work Sanctions on Multiple Program Retention and Earnings” (with Katherine Richard)