, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 545–561 | Cite as

Mother or Market? Effects of Maternal Employment on the Intellectual Ability of 4-Year-Old Children

  • Sonalde Desai
  • P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale
  • Robert T. Michael
Demography of the Life Course


This article uses the 1986 Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth data set to investigate the impact of maternal employment on children's intellectual ability, as measured at the age of 4 by using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT). Results from multivariate regression analysis show a statistically significant adverse effect of mother's employment on children's intellectual ability, but only for boys in higher income families. Furthermore, the negative impact was related to the timing of maternal employment: employment during the boys' infancy had a statistically significant negative effect on PPVT scores at the age of 4. This pattern was not found for girls, for children in low-income families, or for families in which mothers resumed their employment after the child's first year of life. The impact of other demographic trends in recent years—declining fertility and rising marital instability—are also investigated. The results show an adverse effect of the presence of other siblings on children's PPVT scores; but holding family income constant, the effect of the parents' marital status on children's intellectual ability is not statistically significant. In addition, several family background factors are highly correlated with children's test scores.


Child Care Family Income Intellectual Ability Young Sibling Maternal Employment 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baker, P. C. and F. L. Mott. 1989. NLSY Child Handbook. Columbus, Ohio: Center for Human Resource Research, Ohio State University.Google Scholar
  2. Barglow, P., B. Vaughn, and N. Molitor. 1987. Effects of maternal absence due to employment on the quality of infant-mother attachment in a low-risk sample. Child Development 58:945–954.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Becker, G. S. 1981. A Treatise on the Family. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Becker, G. S., and N. Tomes. 1976. Child endowments and the quantity and quality of children. Journal of Political Economy 84(4; Pt. 2):S143-S162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Belmont, L., and F. A. Marolla. 1973. Birthorder, family size and intelligence. Science 182:1096–1101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belsky, J. 1988. The “effects” of infant day care reconsidered. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 3:235–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Belsky, J., and M. J. Rovine. 1988. Nonmaternal care in the first year of life and the security of infant-parent attachment. Child Development 59:157–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Blake, J. 1981. Family size and the quality of children. Demography 18:421–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bock, R. D., and E. G. J. Moore. 1986. Advantage and Disadvantage: Profile of American Youth. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  10. Bradley, R. H., and B. M. Caldwell. 1980. The relation of home environment, cognitive competence, and IQ among males and females. Child Development 51:1140–1148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bronfenbrenner, U. 1985. Research Paradigms: Present and Future. Paper prepared for the Society for Research in Child Development Study Group on Interacting Systems in Human Development, Cornell University, May 15–17.Google Scholar
  12. Bronfenbrenner, U., and A. C. Crouter. 1982. Work and family through time and space. Pp. 39–83 in S. B. Kamerman and C. D. Hayes (eds.), Families That Work: Children in a Changing World. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  13. Brooks-Gunn, J., and F. F. Furstenberg, Jr. 1986. The children of adolescent mothers: Physical, academic, and psychological outcomes. Developmental Review 6:224–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chase-Lansdale, P. L., and M. T. Owen. 1987. Maternal employment in a family context: Effects on infant-mother and infant-father attachments. Child Development 58:1505–1512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Clarke-Stewart, K. A., and G. Fein. 1983. Early childhood programs. Pp. 917–1000 in M. Haith and J. J. Campos (eds.), P. H. Müssen (ser. ed.), Handbook of Child Psychology (Vol. 2): Infancy and Developmental Psychobiology. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  16. Cohen, S. E. 1978. Maternal employment and mother-child interaction. Merill-Palmer Quarterly 24:189–197.Google Scholar
  17. Cramer, J. C. 1980. Fertility and female employment: Problem of causal direction. American Sociological Review 45:167–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dunn, L., and L. Dunn. 1981. Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (PPVT-R). Circle Pines, Minn.: American Guidance Service.Google Scholar
  19. Eggebeen, D. J. 1988. Determinants of maternal employment for white preschool children: 1960–1980. Journal of Marriage and the Family 50:149–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Espenshade, T. J. 1984. Investing in Children. Washington, D.C.: Urban Inst.Google Scholar
  21. Furstenberg, F. F., Jr., J. Brooks-Gunn, and P. L. Chase-Lansdale. 1989. Teenaged pregnancy and childbearing. American Psychologist 44:313–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Heckman, J. 1979. Sample selection bias as a specification error. Econometrica 45:153–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Heer, D. M. 1985. Effects of sibling number on child outcome. Annual Review of Sociology 11:27–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hetherington, E. M., K. A. Camara, and D. L. Featherman. 1981. Achievement and intellectual functioning of children in one-parent households. Pp. 205–284 in J. Spence (ed.), Assessing Achievement. New York: Freeman.Google Scholar
  25. Heyns, B., and S. Catsambis. 1986. Mother's employment and children's achievement: A critique. Sociology of Education 59:140–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hill, C. R., and F. P. Stafford. 1974. Allocation of time to pre-school children and educational opportunity. Journal of Human Resources 9:323–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. —. 1985. Parental care of children: Time diary estimates of quantity, predictability, and variety. Pp. 415–437 in F. T. Juster and F. P. Stafford (eds. ), Time, Goods, and Well-Being. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  28. Hock, E. 1980. Working and nonworking mothers and their infants: A comparative study of maternal caregiving characteristics and infant social behavior. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 26:79–101.Google Scholar
  29. Hofferth, S. L., and K. A. Moore. 1979. Early childbearing and later economic well being. American Sociological Review 44:784–815.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hofferth, S. L., and D. H. Phillips. 1987. Child care in the United States, 1970 to 1995. Journal of Marriage and the Family 49:559–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hoffman, L. W. 1980. The effects of maternal employment on the academic studies and performance of school-age children. School Psychology Review 9:319–335.Google Scholar
  32. — 1984. Maternal employment and the young child. Pp. 101–127 in M. Perlmutter (ed.), Minnesota Symposium in Child Psychology (Vol. 17). Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  33. Howes, C. and P. Stewart. 1987. Child's play with adults, toys, and peers: An examination of family and child care influences. Developmental Psychology 23:423–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kamerman, S. B., and C. D. Hayes. 1982. Families That Work: Children in a Changing World. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
  35. Lazear, E. P., and R. T. Michael. 1988. Allocation of Income Within the Household. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  36. Lee, V., J. Brooks-Gunn, and E. Schnur. 1988. Does Head Start work? Developmental Psychology 24:210–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Leibowitz, A. 1974. Home investments in children. Pp. 432–452 in T. W. Schultz(ed.), Economics of the Family. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  38. Lindert, P. H. 1977. Sibling position and achievement. Journal of Human Resources 12:198–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Marini, M. M. 1984. Women's educational attainment and the timing of entry into parenthood. American Sociological Review 49:491–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McCartney, K. 1984. Effects of quality of day care environment on children's language development. Developmental Psychology 20:244–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mercy, J. A., and L. C. Steelman. 1982. Familial influence on the intellectual attainment of children. American Sociological Review 47:532–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Milne, A. M., D. E. Myers, A. S. Rosenthal, and A. Ginsburg. 1986. Single parents, working mothers, and the educational achievement of school children. Sociology of Education 59:125–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Phillips, D. A. (ed.). 1987. Quality in Child Care: What Does the Research Tell Us? Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children.Google Scholar
  44. Phillips, D., K. McCartney, and S. Scarr. 1987. Child care quality and children's social development. Developmental Psychology 23:537–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ramey, C. T. and F. A. Campbell. 1984. Preventive education for high risk children: Cognitive consequences of the Abecedarian project. American Journal of Mental Deficiency 88:515–524.Google Scholar
  46. Rosenzweig, M. R., and T. P. Schultz. 1983. Estimating a household production function: Heterogeneity, the demand for health inputs, and their effects on birth weight. Journal of Political Economy 91:723–746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rubenstein, J., C. Howes, and P. Boyle. 1981. A two year follow-up of infants in community-based day care. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 22:209–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rutter, M. 1985. Family and school influences on cognitive development. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 26:683–704.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Schachter, F. F. 1981. Toddlers with employed mothers. Child Development 52:958–964.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Schwartz, P. 1983. Length of day-care attendance and attachment behavior in eighteen-month-old infants. Child Development 54:1073–1078.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Schwarz, J. C., R. G. Strickland, and G. Krolick. 1974. Infant day care: Behavioral effects at preschool age. Developmental Psychology 10:502–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Stafford, F. P. 1987. Women's work, sibling competition, and children's school performance. American Economic Review 77:972–980.Google Scholar
  53. Stolzenberg, R. M., and L. J. Waite. 1977. Age, fertility expectations and plans for employment. American Sociological Review 42:769–783.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Stuckey, M. F., P. E. McGhee, and N. J. Bell. 1982. Parent-child interaction: The influence of maternal employment. Developmental Psychology 18:635–644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Suwalsky, F. T. D., M. J. Zaslow, R. P. Klein, and B. A. Rabinovich. 1986. Continuity of Substitute Care in Relation to Infant-Mother Attachment. Poster paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  56. U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1986. Fertility of American Women, Current Population Reports, Ser. P-20, No. 406. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  57. —. 1988. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1988 (108th ed.). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  58. Vandell, D. L., and M. A. Corasaniti. 1988. Variations in Early Child Care: Do They Predict Subsequent Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Differences? Unpublished manuscript, University of Texas at Dallas.Google Scholar
  59. Weiss, Y., and R. J. Willis. 1988. Divorce Settlements and the Distribution of Welfare Between Husbands and Wives. Paper presented at an International Union for the Scientific Study of Population Seminar, Sendai, Japan, September.Google Scholar
  60. Willis, R. J. 1973. A new approach to the economic theory of fertility behavior. Journal of Political Economy 81(2):S14-S64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Zajonc, R. B. 1976. Family configuration and intelligence. Science 192:227–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Zajonc, R. B., and G. B. Marcus. 1975. Birth order and intellectual development. Psychology Review 82:74–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Zaslow, M. J. 1987. Sex Differences in Children's Response to Maternal Employment. Paper presented at a symposium on Sex Differences in Children's Response to Psychosocial Stress, Woods Hole, Mass.Google Scholar
  64. Zaslow, M. J., and C. D. Hayes 1986. Sex differences in children’s response to psychosocial stress: Toward a cross-context analysis. Pp. 285–337 in M. E. Lamb, A. Brown, and B. Rogoff (eds.), Advances in Developmental Psychology (Vol. 4). Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  65. Zaslow, M., F. Pedersen, J. Suwalsky, R. Cain, B. Anderson, and M. Fivel. 1985. The early resumption of employment by mothers: Implications for parent-infant interaction. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 6:1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sonalde Desai
    • 1
  • P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale
    • 2
  • Robert T. Michael
    • 3
  1. 1.Rand CorporationSanta Monica
  2. 2.Center for Family ResearchGeorge Washington University Medical CenterWashington, D.C.
  3. 3.University of Chicago and NORCChicago

Personalised recommendations