This study tests the two assumptions underlying popularly held notions that maternal employment negatively affects children because it reduces time spent with parents: (1) that maternal employment reduces children’s time with parents, and (2) that time with parents affects child outcomes. We analyze children’s time-diary data from the Child Development Supplement of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and use child fixed-effects and IV estimations to account for unobserved heterogeneity. We find that working mothers trade quantity of time for better “quality” of time. On average, maternal work has no effect on time in activities that positively influence children’s development, but it reduces time in types of activities that may be detrimental to children’s development. Stratification by mothers’ education reveals that although all children, regardless of mother’s education, benefit from spending educational and structured time with their mothers, mothers who are high school graduates have the greatest difficulty balancing work and childcare. We find some evidence that fathers compensate for maternal employment by increasing types of activities that can foster child development as well as types of activities that may be detrimental. Overall, we find that the effects of maternal employment are ambiguous because (1) employment does not necessarily reduce children’s time with parents, and (2) not all types of parental time benefit child development.
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Fiorini and Keane (forthcoming) implicitly considered fathers by examining children’s time with both parents. However, because they did not distinguish between children’s time with fathers and with mothers, their analysis could not determine whether fathers’ time has effects that are independent of mothers’.
Relative to parent-based time diaries, child-based time diaries are less able to capture less-direct aspects of parental time investments, such as parents’ time managing and organizing children’s activities. However, child-based time measures may be better at capturing children’s experience of parental time, which may be more relevant to understanding how time affects child outcomes.
Time-diary reports also offer information on children’s time with nonparental care providers such as grandparents, other relatives, and babysitters. However, because time diaries are typically completed by mothers, children’s time with nonparental care providers will rely on mothers’ reports of children’s time when mothers are not present. These reports will not be reliable.
Cognitive tests were not administered to children younger than 3 years in 1997 (N = 430). So, in nearly all cases, those having missing 1997 test scores were children younger than 3 years in 1997. In robustness checks, we exclude these children from the analysis, and our results do not substantively change.
We also estimate our models using mean substitution and listwise deletion of missing values. These results do not substantively differ from the presented results.
Time measures were constructed by multiplying weekday time estimates by 5 and weekend day estimates by 2.
A detailed description of the coding schemes of the activities is available from the authors on request. Following Yeung et al. (2001), we also examine other activities not discussed in the text. Specifically, we examine time with parents performing personal care, household activities, and other unspecified activities. These categories were not included in the main analysis for several reasons. First, they are reflected in total time. Second, we are unaware of theories that argue that these types of activities should matter for children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes, the outcomes we focus on in this study. Third, in analyses not shown here but available upon request, our findings show that these activities are not significantly correlated to maternal work hours nor are they significantly related to children’s outcomes.
Having information on work hours over the last year avoids the problem of basing our analysis on work hours observed in one particular week and thus erroneously on a too low or too high value. Thus, we can circumvent a potential problem arising from variation in work hours over the year.
In analysis not shown here but available on request, we also estimate all models using a dichotomous measure indicating maternal labor market participation. The results are not substantively different from the findings presented when we use continuous measures of maternal work hours.
We also estimate OLS regressions to test the two assumptions. However, given issues of selection bias inherent in OLS estimations and space limitations, we present results only from FE and IV regressions. OLS results are available upon request.
Results of the first-stage regressions are available upon request.
Supplementary analysis confirmed that regression coefficients by mother’s education were significantly different from one another.
Because the findings for the different educational strata are not significantly different from each other, we do not present the estimates. They are available upon request.
We also conducted analyses of children’s time with fathers stratified by mothers’ education, finding some evidence that the effect of maternal employment on fathers’ time is strongest among college graduate mothers. The single categories, however, exhibit too few observations to permit reliable IV estimations.
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Financial support for this research was provided by the Population Studies Center to Amy Hsin and by the Profile Area of Economicy Policy at the University of St. Gallen to Christina Felfe.
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Hsin, A., Felfe, C. When Does Time Matter? Maternal Employment, Children’s Time With Parents, and Child Development. Demography 51, 1867–1894 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-014-0334-5
- Maternal employment
- Parental time
- Child development