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Work Environment and "Opt-Out" Rates at Motherhood Across High-Education Career Paths


  • Jane Leber Herr
  • Catherine Wolfram


Using data from the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates and a sample of Harvard alumnae, we study the relationship between work environment and the labor force participation of mothers. We first document a large variation in labor force participation rates across high-education fields. Mindful of the possibility of systematic patterns in the types of women who complete different graduate degrees, we use the rich information available in each dataset, and the longitudinal nature of the Harvard data, to assess the extent to which these labor supply patterns may reflect variation in the difficulty of combining work with family. While it is difficult to entirely rule out systematic sorting, our evidence suggests that non-family-friendly work environments "push" women out of the labor force at motherhood.

Suggested Citation

  • Jane Leber Herr & Catherine Wolfram, 2009. "Work Environment and "Opt-Out" Rates at Motherhood Across High-Education Career Paths," NBER Working Papers 14717, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14717
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 2005. "Changes in the Labor Supply Behavior of Married Women: 1980-2000," NBER Working Papers 11230, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    5. Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2008. "Transitions: Career and Family Life Cycles of the Educational Elite," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(2), pages 363-369, May.
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    9. Juhn, Chinhui & Murphy, Kevin M, 1997. "Wage Inequality and Family Labor Supply," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 72-97, January.
    10. Marianne Bertrand & Claudia Goldin & Lawrence F. Katz, 2010. "Dynamics of the Gender Gap for Young Professionals in the Financial and Corporate Sectors," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(3), pages 228-255, July.
    11. Alessandra Fogli & Laura Veldkamp, 2011. "Nature or Nurture? Learning and the Geography of Female Labor Force Participation," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 79(4), pages 1103-1138, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:wsi:medjxx:v:04:y:2012:i:02:n:s1793812012500083 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Asphjell, Magne K. & Hensvik, Lena & Nilsson, J. Peter, 2013. "Businesses, Buddies, and Babies: Fertility and Social Interactions at Work," Working Paper Series, Center for Labor Studies 2013:8, Uppsala University, Department of Economics.
    3. Qingyan Shang & Bruce Weinberg, 2013. "Opting for families: recent trends in the fertility of highly educated women," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 26(1), pages 5-32, January.
    4. Hussey, Andrew, 2011. "The effect of ethics on labor market success: Evidence from MBAs," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 168-180.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth

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