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Effects of early maternal employment on maternal health and well-being


This study uses data from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study on Early Child Care to examine the effects of maternal employment on maternal mental and overall health, self-reported parenting stress, and parenting quality. These outcomes are measured when children are 6 months old. Among mothers of 6-month-old infants, maternal work hours are positively associated with depressive symptoms and parenting stress and negatively associated with self-rated overall health. However, maternal employment is not associated with quality of parenting at 6 months, based on trained assessors’ observations of maternal sensitivity.

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  1. Little Rock, AR; Irvine, CA; Lawrence, KS; Boston, MA; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; Charlottesville, VA; Morganton, NC; Seattle, WA; Madison, WI

  2. In this variable and in others where log values are used, the zeros are replaced with a value of 0.5.

  3. Rates of depression at the 1-month interview are lower for employed vs. not employed mothers as well. A full set of descriptive statistics is shown in Chatterji et al. (2011).

  4. Professional; technician or related support; sales; administrative support or clerical; private household; protective service; service; farm operation or management; mechanic or repairer; construction or other trade; machine operator, assembler, or inspector; transportation or material moving; handler, equipment cleaner, helper, or laborer; with executive, administrative, or managerial as the baseline.

  5. Children who did not use any of these child care arrangements for 10 or more hours per week were considered to be exclusively in the care of the mother. At 6 months, about 14 % of employed mothers were using exclusive maternal care.

  6. In addition to estimating effects of maternal employment measured at 3 months, we also experiment with models using the average of maternal work hours measured at the 1- and 3-month interviews and at the 1-, 3-, and 6-month interviews. Results are very similar to those presented here.

  7. Cawley and Liu (2007), using 2003–2006 data from the American Time Use Survey, find that conditional on spending some time with children, employed mothers spend 139 fewer minutes (on the reference day) with their children than stay-at-home mothers, controlling for maternal race/ethnicity, age, education, marital status, and other factors (Cawley and Liu 2007). Bianchi (2000) notes that employed mothers sleep fewer hours and spend less time in self-care and leisure time activities compared to nonemployed mothers.

  8. Although it is possible that maternal employment already has affected family outcomes by the 1-month interview, this is unlikely. In our sample, 135 mothers are employed at the 1-month interview, but only 31 of these mothers have returned to work full time and 104 of these mothers report having fairly or completely flexible hours.

  9. When we estimate models using the full sample of mothers, the baseline category combines mothers who are not employed with mothers who are employed but are on leave. When we estimate models using a sample limited to employed mothers (defined as mothers who report that they are employed and working or employed and on leave, at the 1-month interview), the baseline category is limited to mothers who are employed but are still on leave.

  10. For continuous outcomes (depressive symptoms, parenting stress, and parenting quality), we also estimated models which included both hours and hours squared. Hours squared was not a statistically significant predictor of outcomes in these models. Results available upon request.

  11. Rather than using the number of weekly hours worked at the 3-month interview, we use (1) the average hours per week at 1-, 3-, and 6-month interviews; (2) the average hours per week at the 1- and 3-month interviews; and (3) three indicator variables for the categories of working 1 to 20 h per week at last interview, working 21 to 39 h per week at last interview, and working at least 40 h per week at last interview. For all outcomes, we also explore a specification that includes dummy indicators for each 10-h increment of work hours (1–10, 11–20, 21–30, 40+). The advantage of this approach is that we allow for greater flexibility in the effects of work hours on outcomes. The disadvantage is the cell sizes are small in the three categories for those working 30 or fewer hours per week. The general pattern is consistent to what we discuss in the paper already—full-time work (more than 30 h per week) has statistically significant, detrimental effects on depressive symptoms and parenting stress, although the effects on parenting stress exist in the employed sample only.


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The authors gratefully acknowledge that the project was supported by grant number R03HD052583 from the National Institute of Child Health And Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health And Human Development or the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Pinka Chatterji.

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Responsible editor: Erdal Tekin

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Chatterji, P., Markowitz, S. & Brooks-Gunn, J. Effects of early maternal employment on maternal health and well-being. J Popul Econ 26, 285–301 (2013).

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  • Maternal employment
  • Maternal health
  • Maternity leave
  • Family leave

JEL Classification

  • I1
  • I10
  • I12