Working paper 03/070 - Abstract

The Effects of Early Maternal Employment on Child Development in the UK (PDF, file 278 KB) (PDF, 286kB)

Paul Gregg, Elizabeth Washbrook and the ALSPAC Study Team

This paper uses data from the ALSPAC cohort of 12000 births to explore the effects of early maternal employment on child cognitive and behavioural outcomes. The results indicate that full time maternal employment begun in the 18 months after childbirth has small negative effects on later child outcomes. Part-time work and work begun later than 18 months, however, do not seem to have any adverse consequences. We explore the issue of whether our results are biased by unobserved heterogeneity but find no evidence that our results are sensitive to the inclusion of controls for a wide range of background factors. We conduct sub-group analyses to investigate whether certain groups may be more vulnerable to the effects of early full time maternal employment than others. This paper also explores the mechanisms linking maternal employment to children's development. The mechanisms examined relate to the parenting behaviours of the mother and father, breastfeeding behaviour, maternal tiredness and stress, household income and the use of non-maternal childcare. We find that a number of factors work to minimise the effect of mothers' labour market participation on their children. Fathers are significantly more involved in child rearing in households where mothers return to work early and this more equal division of parenting has strongly beneficial effects on later child outcomes. Negative employment effects are concentrated in those families where mothers work full time and also rely on unpaid care by a friend or relative. The use of paid childcare protects children from these negative effects and attendance at a centre-based provider may actually lead to better cognitive outcomes than if the child were at home with a non-working mother.

Published in the Economic Journal vol 115, F48-80, (February 2005)

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