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Work and breastfeeding decisions are jointly determined for higher socioeconomic status US mothers

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We study postpartum decisions about paid work and breastfeeding using a simultaneous equations model. For our sample of higher socioeconomic status mothers, we find a joint decision process for three sets of decisions modeled: work leave duration and duration of any, as well as of exclusive, breastfeeding, and daily work hours and daily breastfeedings at infant age 3 months. We find that returning to paid work 1 week earlier reduces any breastfeeding duration by about two-thirds of a week while extending breastfeeding by a week delays work participation by about one-third of a week. We find larger elasticities for decisions involving daily work hours and number of breastfeedings at 3 months than for work leave duration and any breastfeeding duration and the smallest elasticities for duration of exclusive breastfeeding and work leave. This marks the first study to find a joint decision-making process for postpartum work and breastfeeding decisions and suggests that, in addition to increased leave impacting breastfeeding behaviors, successful breastfeeding promotion policies can have nontrivial impacts on the US labor market.

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  1. For example, in 2005 50.5 million women between the ages of 16 and 50 were in the labor force, which comprised 33.8 % of the annual labor force (US Department of Labor 2006).

  2. Work, in all cases, means actually performing a job as distinguished from being employed but not actually working.

  3. Three months roughly corresponds with the 12 week leave requirement of the Family Medical Leave Act and many state regulations while 6 months roughly corresponds with the typical time solid foods are introduced into an infant’s diet.

  4. Duleep and Sanders (1994), Nakamura and Nakamura (1994), and Shapiro and Mott (1994) exemplify research that demonstrates the importance of conditioning on pre-birth market work when exploring post-birth labor force activity.

  5. Intention to return to work post-partum was asked in the prenatal survey.

  6. We advise caution in inferring secular trends by comparing IFPSI and IFPSII. While both surveys use a similar consumer panel as a base, the selection process into the panel and into the sample used for analysis may have changed over the 15 year interval, leaving comparisons of averages as a function of changes in selection rather than as a change in the behavior of the general population of interest.

  7. Results of these tests may be requested from the corresponding author.

  8. It is possible that intention to return to work and intention to breastfeed are also simultaneously decided. We explored this in preliminary analysis, and the results may be requested from the corresponding author.

  9. Note that the mother’s time is not needed at all if the child is consuming breast-milk that was pumped previously and fed via bottle to the child, although she had to put in time previously to pump the milk.

  10. An alternative explanation, however, is that the differing results found by Roe et al. (1999) are due to weaker controls for critical variables such as taste for home production and contribution of mother’s income to the household total income. While we test how the more modern IFPS II data performs using Roe et al.’s identification strategy, we cannot test how the IFPS I data would perform had different control variables been collected.


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Correspondence to Bidisha Mandal.

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Mandal, B., Roe, B.E. & Fein, S.B. Work and breastfeeding decisions are jointly determined for higher socioeconomic status US mothers. Rev Econ Household 12, 237–257 (2014).

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