Volume 34 - Article 14 | Pages 407–420  

Maternal labor force participation and differences by education in an urban birth cohort study - 1998-2010

By Natasha Pilkauskas, Jane Waldfogel, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn


Background: Maternal labor force participation has increased dramatically over the last 40 years, yet surprisingly little is known about longitudinal patterns of maternal labor force participation in the years after a birth, or how these patterns vary by education.

Objective: We document variation by maternal education in mothers’ labor force participation (timing, intensity, non-standard work, multiple job-holding) over the first nine years after the birth of a child.

Methods: We use the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N~3000) to predict longitudinal labor force participation in a recent longitudinal sample of mothers who gave birth in large US cities between 1998 and 2000. Families were followed until children were age 9, through 2010.

Results: Labor force participation gradually increases in the years after birth for mothers with high school or less education, whereas for mothers with some college or more, participation increases between ages 1 and 3 and then remains mostly stable thereafter. Mothers with less than high school education have the highest rates of unemployment (actively seeking work), which remain high compared with all other education groups, whose unemployment declines over time. Compared with all other education groups, mothers with some college have the highest rates of labor force participation, but also high rates of part-time employment, non-standard work, and multiple job-holding.

Contribution: Simple conceptualizations of labor force participation do not fully capture the dynamics of labor force attachment for mothers in terms of intensity, timing of entry, and type of work hours, as well as differences by maternal education.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

The magnitude and timing of grandparental coresidence during childhood in the United States
Volume 37 - Article 52

Three-generation family households in early childhood: Comparisons between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia
Volume 30 - Article 60

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

Educational reproduction in Sweden: A replication of Skopek and Leopold 2020 using Swedish data
Volume 48 - Article 25    | Keywords: differential fertility, education, prospective models, reproduction, social mobility, Sweden

A register-based account of period trends in union prevalence, entries, and exits by educational level for men and women in Finland
Volume 48 - Article 14    | Keywords: cohabitation, divorce, education, Finland, marriage, register data, trends, union dissolution

Adolescent fertility and high school completion in Chile: Exploring gender differences
Volume 47 - Article 31    | Keywords: adolescent fertility, Chile, education, gender, Latin America, propensity score, selectivity

Women's economic empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from cross-national population data
Volume 47 - Article 15    | Keywords: agency, Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), economic growth, education, employment, sub-Saharan Africa, women's economic independence

Fertility among better-off women in sub-Saharan Africa: Nearing late transition levels across the region
Volume 46 - Article 29    | Keywords: education, fertility, fertility differentials, international comparison, socioeconomic status, sub-Saharan Africa