Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


The primary purpose of this dissertation is to explain why the United States and Canada, two very similar countries, have taken different approaches to family leave policies. These nations are both established democracies with comparable levels of economic development and federal systems of government. As liberal welfare regimes, they typically look to the market for resource distribution, rather than to the government. However, despite these similarities, the two countries have adopted very different family leave policies.

Drawing upon the literature of women's movements, the study examines the impact that women's movements had on the family leave policymaking process in the United States and Canada. Because both countries have strong women's movements, the research finds that the strength of movements is a necessary but not sufficient explanation for policy divergence. Instead, it is the cohesiveness and issue prioritization of the women's movement within each nation that help determine family leave policies.

Using process tracing, the study finds that women's movement actors play a key role in the enactment of family leave policies. The data are varied, including interviews with movement leaders, movement literature, archival documents, and secondary literature. The research demonstrates that in situations where women's movements are cohesive and prioritize family leave, the legislature is more likely to adopt paid leave policies. Alternatively, paid leave is unlikely to pass when the women's movement is divided on the issue and does not make it a priority on its agenda. But women's movements do not act alone; thus, no one variable can fully explain the policy variation within the United States and Canada. There are a number of other factors that may influence the passage of family leave policies, such as the strength of unions, the presence of critical actors in the legislature, the power of women's policy agencies, and the ideological orientation of the executive and legislative branches. The study demonstrates that there is an interactive effect between women's movements and these other factors.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.