As President Barack Obama approaches the end of his second term, there's been much discussion of what his legacy will be. While much of that debate focuses on his foreign policy or his sweeping domestic policies, such as the Affordable Care Act, there's another area where the 44th president has left a significant mark: making life easier for millions of working parents.
"His administration has spent a lot of time and energy explaining why family-friendly policies are good for business, and providing a platform for employers to share their own views on the topic," said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Those policies have included expanding paid parental leave and sick time, emphasizing gender equality in parenting and reducing some of the costs associated with having children. (There have also been some misses -- family policy advocates pointed to the administration's continued deportation raids targeting mothers and children as a major disappointment.)
"This administration has focused in on those issues in ways that previous administrations did not," says Heather Boushey, the executive director and chief economist of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, noting that's been driven in part by the Obama administration's ideology and in part by the economic conditions over the last decade.
Here are some of the ways Obama's presidency has benefited parents:
He's emphasized giving new mothers and fathers the time off they need.
"We are a nation that, on the one hand, both encourages and preaches about the importance of being good parents to your children," says Ellen Bravo of Family Values @ Work, an advocacy group that pushes for paid sick and family leave. "And yet for millions Americans, doing exactly that will cost them their financial security."
Obama has pushed to make it possible for parents to be both engaged with their children and financially secure, signing an executive action granting federal workers six weeks of paid leave after a child is born. He's also urged Congress and state legislatures to expand paid leave, and emphasized the issue in his 2015 State of the Union address. The Labor Department, meanwhile, has given grants to states exploring the benefits of granting more workers paid leave.
This emphasis appears to have had some trickle-down effects. Cities like New York, San Francisco and Austin have moved forward on their own to grant workers paid family leave. The issue also became an important one on the campaign trail throughout the primary season. And while just 12 percent of Americans currently have access to paid parental leave, there seems to be a shift in some sectors: Tech companies in particular have started offering generous paid leave programs, in part to retain talented workers.
Many studies tout the benefits of family leave for parents and children alike. Children whose parents are granted paid parental leave are more likely to be immunized. Women are also more likely to breastfeed longer if given more paid time off, which in turn can help prevent asthma, infections and other health problems. A 2011 study found that increasing paid maternity and paternity leave could even reduce the infant mortality rate by 10 percent. Fathers who are given paternity leave are more likely to take an active role in parenting later on, which can help with children's development.
Parents also see significant health benefits: A 2015 study published in Social Science & Medicine found women who are given paid maternity leave with full benefits are 16.2 percent less likely to become depressed than women without paid leave. Another study found that women who have paid maternity leave are significantly less likely to experience depression later in life.
Allowing new parents time off to bond with their child also benefits the companies they work for. Research shows that individuals given paid maternity leave are more likely to return to work at the same company, reducing costs associated with employee turnover. Women who take paid leave are also more likely to work more hours and remain in the workforce longer.
"That can save firms significant money," says Boushey.
But it's not just new parents that need time with their kids.
Obama has also required federal contractors to provide paid sick days to their employees, which parents can use to care for children or other loved ones in need. He's also emphasized these policies at the state and municipal level: Currently, five states and 26 cities have paid sick time policies in place.
"The progress we have seen in recent years is hugely important, not just because of those who have been helped, but also because we now have an irrefutable body of evidence demonstrating that paid sick days policies work well for employers as well as workers," said Ness, pointing to research showing how paid sick time has little impact on profitability and in some cases has boosted productivity among workers.
The American Medical Association has also endorsed paid sick leave, arguing that by giving individuals time off to care for themselves or their children, they are reducing the risk of transmitting diseases or viruses to others or prolonging illness.
"Paid sick leave keeps our homes, offices and communities healthier while ensuring the family's economic security," the organization said.
He's embraced the role of "dad-in-chief."
"Barack Obama has been 'dad-in-chief' in a way we haven't seen before in the White House," said Bravo. "He talks openly about the need for fathers to be engaged, but also that women are disproportionately affected by the lack of [family-friendly] policies."
Obama regularly talks about his relationship with his daughters, Malia and Sasha, and the importance of his role as a father. Bravo argues that by doing so, Obama has made parenthood an issue of national importance. She pointed specifically to Obama sharing how his daughters had reshaped his views on marriage equality.
"That's a great model in a father," she said.
His emphasis on fatherhood -- which Obama has said stems from his own childhood with an absent dad -- could have a concrete impact on kids if emulated. Studies show that children with engaged fathers have higher cognitive ability and stronger literacy skills. Children with engaged parents are also likelier to be healthy and have less emotional distress. And by emphasizing equality in parenting, Obama is making strides for women as well.
"His gender-neutral approach to family-friendly policies is also tremendously positive because it underscores that, for families and communities to thrive, we must recognize that caregiving is not just a women’s issue," said Ness.
He's addressed rising income inequality.
Obama's answers to the country's worsening economic inequality -- the Affordable Care Act, pushing for a higher minimum wage, proposing tax credits for child care expenses -- could have a significant impact on working families.
"This is an era in which the kinds of benefits that families get make all the difference for economic security," said Boushey.
Research shows that low wages have a major impact on families, and women of color are disproportionately affected. Raising the federal minimum wage, as Obama has proposed, would increase the salaries of millions of low-wage workers -- most of whom are women.
As for the ACA, a 2014 Brookings Institution study found that Obamacare will ease income inequality over time by boosting the average income of the country's lowest earners. Another study by the Urban Institute found that the law will help close the coverage gap between white people and people of color.
Ness also pointed to provisions of Obamacare, like contraception coverage and requiring employers to give nursing mothers time to pump at work, as being huge milestones for parents, arguing that these policies are "essential to women’s ability to participate and succeed in the workforce."