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The Effects of Early Maternal Employment on Child Development in the UK


  • Paul Gregg
  • Elizabeth Washbrook



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.

Suggested Citation

  • Paul Gregg & Elizabeth Washbrook, 2003. "The Effects of Early Maternal Employment on Child Development in the UK," The Centre for Market and Public Organisation 03/070, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
  • Handle: RePEc:bri:cmpowp:03/070

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    1. Should lone parents work?
      by chris dillow in Stumbling and Mumbling on 2009-02-23 20:09:23


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    Cited by:

    1. Simon Burgess & Carol Propper & John A. Rigg, 2004. "The Impact of Low Income on Child Health: Evidence from a Birth Cohort Study," CASE Papers 085, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
    2. Ian Walker & Yu Zhu, 2008. "Child Support and Educational Outcomes: Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey," Studies in Economics 0811, School of Economics, University of Kent.
    3. Buchanan, A., 2006. "Children aged 0-13 at risk of social exclusion: Impact of government policy in England and Wales," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 28(10), pages 1135-1151, October.
    4. Ian Walker & Yu Zhu, 2007. "Do Dads matter? Or is it just their money that matters? Unpicking the effects of separation on educational outcomes by and," Working Papers 200722, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
    5. Tatiana Karabchuk, 2016. "The subjective well-being of women in Europe: children, work and employment protection legislation," Mind & Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences, Springer;Fondazione Rosselli, vol. 15(2), pages 219-245, November.
    6. Carol Propper & John Rigg & Simon Burgess, 2007. "Child health: evidence on the roles of family income and maternal mental health from a UK birth cohort," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 16(11), pages 1245-1269.
    7. Georgia Verropoulou & Heather Joshi, 2009. "Does mother’s employment conflict with child development? Multilevel analysis of British mothers born in 1958," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 22(3), pages 665-692, July.

    More about this item


    maternal employment; child development;

    JEL classification:

    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
    • I20 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - General

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