IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Mechanisms for the Association Between Maternal Employment and Child Cognitive Development


  • John Cawley
  • Feng Liu


Recent research has found that maternal employment is associated with worse child performance on tests of cognitive ability. This paper explores mechanisms for that correlation. We estimate models of instrumental variables using a unique dataset, the American Time Use Survey, that measure the effect of maternal employment on the mother's allocation of time to activities related to child cognitive development. We find that employed women spend significantly less time reading to their children, helping with homework, and in educational activities in general. We find no evidence that these decreases in time are offset by increases in time by husbands and partners. These findings offer plausible mechanisms for the association of maternal employment with child cognitive development.

Suggested Citation

  • John Cawley & Feng Liu, 2007. "Mechanisms for the Association Between Maternal Employment and Child Cognitive Development," NBER Working Papers 13609, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13609
    Note: CH ED LS

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Katharine G. Abraham & Aaron Maitland & Suzanne M. Bianchi, 2006. "Non-response in the American Time Use Survey: Who Is Missing from the Data and How Much Does It Matter?," NBER Technical Working Papers 0328, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. James Heckman, 2011. "Policies to foster human capital," Educational Studies, Higher School of Economics, issue 3, pages 73-137.
    3. Ruhm, Christopher J., 2008. "Maternal employment and adolescent development," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(5), pages 958-983, October.
    4. Cragg, John G, 1971. "Some Statistical Models for Limited Dependent Variables with Application to the Demand for Durable Goods," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 39(5), pages 829-844, September.
    5. Grossman, Michael, 2000. "The human capital model," Handbook of Health Economics,in: A. J. Culyer & J. P. Newhouse (ed.), Handbook of Health Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 7, pages 347-408 Elsevier.
    6. Imbens, Guido W & Angrist, Joshua D, 1994. "Identification and Estimation of Local Average Treatment Effects," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(2), pages 467-475, March.
    7. Stock, James H & Wright, Jonathan H & Yogo, Motohiro, 2002. "A Survey of Weak Instruments and Weak Identification in Generalized Method of Moments," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 20(4), pages 518-529, October.
    8. Han, Wen-Jui, 2006. "Maternal work schedules and child outcomes: Evidence from the National Survey of American Families," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 28(9), pages 1039-1059, September.
    9. Andrew M. Jones, 2012. "health econometrics," The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, Palgrave Macmillan.
    10. Susanne James-Burdumy, 2005. "The Effect of Maternal Labor Force Participation on Child Development," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(1), pages 177-211, January.
    11. Angela Fertig & Gerhard Glomm & Rusty Tchernis, 2009. "The connection between maternal employment and childhood obesity: inspecting the mechanisms," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 7(3), pages 227-255, September.
    12. Paul Gregg & Elizabeth Washbrook & Carol Propper & Simon Burgess, 2005. "The Effects of a Mother's Return to Work Decision on Child Development in the UK," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 115(501), pages 48-80, February.
    13. Rebecca M. Blank, 2002. "Evaluating Welfare Reform in the United States," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(4), pages 1105-1166, December.
    14. Jane Waldfogel & Wen-Jui Han & Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, 2002. "The effects of early maternal employment on child cognitive development," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 39(2), pages 369-392, May.
    15. Suzanne Bianchi, 2000. "Maternal employment and time with children: Dramatic change or surprising continuity?," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 37(4), pages 401-414, November.
    16. Daniel S. Hamermesh & Harley Frazis & Jay Stewart, 2005. "Data Watch: The American Time Use Survey," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 19(1), pages 221-232, Winter.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Jay Stewart, 2014. "Early to bed and earlier to rise: school, maternal employment, and children’s sleep," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 12(1), pages 29-50, March.
    2. Künn-Nelen, A.C. & de Grip, A. & Fouarge, D., 2013. "The relation between maternal work hours and cognitive outcomes of young school-aged children," ROA Research Memorandum 007, Maastricht University, Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA).
    3. Alessandra Casarico & Alessandro Sommacal, 2012. "Labor Income Taxation, Human Capital, and Growth: The Role of Childcare," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 114(4), pages 1182-1207, December.
    4. Ana Rute Cardoso & Elsa Fontainha & Chiara Monfardini, 2008. "Children and parents time use: Empirical evidence on investment in human capital in France, Italy and Germany," CHILD Working Papers wp17_08, CHILD - Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic economics - ITALY.
    5. Michael Baker & Kevin Milligan, 2010. "Evidence from Maternity Leave Expansions of the Impact of Maternal Care on Early Child Development," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 45(1).
    6. Tahir Andrabi & Jishnu Das & Asim Ijaz Khwaja, 2012. "What Did You Do All Day?: Maternal Education and Child Outcomes," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 47(4), pages 873-912.
    7. Joelle Abramowitz, 2016. "The connection between working hours and body mass index in the U.S.: a time use analysis," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 14(1), pages 131-154, March.
    8. Quy-Toan Do & Tung D. Phung, 2010. "The Importance of Being Wanted," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(4), pages 236-253, October.
    9. Amy Hsin & Christina Felfe, 2014. "When Does Time Matter? Maternal Employment, Children’s Time With Parents, and Child Development," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 51(5), pages 1867-1894, October.
    10. Benjamín Villena-Rodán & Cecilia Ríos-Aguilar, 2011. "Causal Effects of Maternal Time-Investment on Children's Cognitive Outcomes," Documentos de Trabajo 285, Centro de Economía Aplicada, Universidad de Chile.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D1 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior
    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:
    1. Papers and articles using the American Time Use Survey (ATUS)


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13609. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.