Children of working mothers: does mother’s employment affect children’s development?

Heather Joshi, University of London
Elizabeth Cooksey, Ohio State University
Georgia Verropoulou, University of Piraeus
Elizabeth Menaghan, Ohio State University
Nikos Tzavidis, Institute of Education

In this study we investigate differences in the cognitive and behavioural development of pre-school aged children by maternal employment using information from the second generation of two cohort studies: the 1970 British Birth Cohort Study (BCS70) and the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth Child (NLSY79) from the US. This will update a similar study of children from the 1958 British cohort but will also expand these analyses by enabling a comparison of maternal employment effects in two industrialized countries where policies regarding maternal leave markedly differ. Both data sets contain several outcomes per child, in some cases several children per mother, and a hierarchical structure which we tackle using multivariate multi-level modelling. We are therefore able to model the relationships between the outcomes, i.e. maths and reading, or a cognitive score with aggressive behaviour, as well as contrast the effect of controlling for the characteristics of the child and family. The BCS70 provides data back to birth for the mothers we study, and the NLSY79 started collecting data from mothers in their early to mid teens thus supplying us with a good array of controls for confounding variables (such as maternal education and ability, plus family history) which may affect whether or not she is in the labour market during her child’s first few years of life. Both data sets also include variables which may mediate or compensate for maternal employment, such as family income, child care, family structure, number of siblings, maternal health, child health. Based on results from previous research we expect maternal employment will impact child development but that effects will differ according to such factors as age of child, when the mother went back to work and, the nature of her employment.

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Presented in Session 9: Economics and Labour Market Issues