From a child development perspective, mothers face a trade-off between time devoted to parenting and money when deciding on whether to work or not. Both money and time devoted to parenting are believed to have a positive effect on a child’s cognitive development. Therefore, it is relevant to estimate the effect of maternal employment on children’s development. Is it plausible to think that the direction of this effect changes across countries?
A research paper by Dunifon et al (2013) associates children’s well-being with their academic performance in high school, and estimates the causal effect of maternal employment on children’s educational outcomes. The study uses detailed Danish data on over 125,000 children born between 1987 and 1992. In two out of tree model specifications they find a positive significant correlation between maternal employment and children’s grade. The papers Instrumental Variables model specification suggests, that a child of a woman who work 30 or more hours per week while her child was under the age of four is predicted to have a GPA that is 5.6 percent higher, than an otherwise similar child whose mother worked between 10 and 19 hours per week. They find no evidence of a negative association between maternal employment and children’s grades. Nevertheless, this result is in contrast to a series of related studies that use data from U.S., Europe, and Canada.
Evidence based on longitudinal data from the United Kingdom and the United States generally suggests that full-time maternal employment during the first year of a child’s life is associated with poorer child outcomes, especially poorer cognitive outcomes.*
The paper by Dunifon et al (2013) mentions the extensive paid leave time, relatively lower work hours and the generous early care and education programs as potential factors that will make the trade-off less constrained. Therefore, the implications of maternal employment for child well-being may differ from other countries.
The reason for the divergent result of maternal employment found by Dunifon et al (2013) compared to studies from other countries is not clear. It could be due to the unique situation faced by working mothers in Denmark, or due to sampling or other methodological reasons. Possibly it is plausible to think that country specific effects may influence the effect of maternal employment on child development, but more research is needed to conclude anything.
R. Dunifon, A. Hansen, S. Nicholson, L. Nielsen: “The Effect of Maternal Employment on Children’s Academic Performance”, January 2013 (WORK IN PROGRESS)
* “OECD SOCIAL, EMPLOYMENT AND MIGRATION WORKING PAPERS NO. 118 – EARLY MATERNAL EMPLOYMENT AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT IN FIVE OECD COUNTRIES”, August 2011