From Motherhood Premium to Motherhood Penalty? Heterogeneous Effects of Motherhood Stages on Women’s Economic Outcomes in Urban China

  • Menghan Zhao
Original Research


Chinese women have reached a high level of labor force participation before China’s deepening economic reform starting from the early 1990s, while women’s deteriorating position in the labor market has been documented in recent literature. However, few studies connect the relationship between the presence of children at different ages and women’s labor market outcomes. Capitalizing on longitudinal data, this study uses a person-fixed-effects model to investigate the relationship between motherhood stages and women’s economic outcomes in urban China. It takes into consideration the impact of children at various ages, as well as the impact of growth in local economies. We find that very young children inhibit mothers’ employment, but the presence of school-aged children is positively correlated with mothers’ income. Our analysis further suggests that, with the development of local economies, the negative association of very young children and women’s labor activity is exacerbated, while the positive relationship between school-aged children and mothers’ income is weakened. Our findings also contribute to the literature on labor market institutions, gender-role ideologies, and the impact on women’s economic outcomes as they balance work with childrearing obligations.


Gender-role ideology Economic reform Urban Chinese women Labor market institutions 



The author gratefully acknowledges the helpful comments of Emily Hannum, Paul Allison from University of Pennsylvania, and the anonymous reviewers. This research was supported by a research grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71490731).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Population and Development StudiesRenmin University of ChinaBeijingChina

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