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

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