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Perinatal Family Labour Supply: Historical Trends and the Modern Experience


  • Mikal Skuterud

    (Department of Economics, University of Waterloo)


The predominant perspective on perinatal family labour supply in the theoretical and empirical economics literature is that careers and children are simultaneous choices, so conditioning on the prenatal career ambitions of individuals, and particularly women, the event of a birth has little or no effect on labour market behaviour. There are, of course, many reasons to believe that this “allor- nothing” view, rooted in assumptions of perfect foresight, overlooks significant labour market effects of children and that due to various trends, including rising correlation in husband-wife earnings, these effects may becoming increasingly important. Using historical Canadian Census data and rich longitudinal microdata, I use nonparametric techniques to identify discontinuities in employment probabilities, hours of work and wage outcomes of parents, and particularly dualcareer couples, in the months just before and after a first birth. The evidence indicates that although the vast majority of new mothers and fathers who were employed prior to birth, maintain that employment, a non-trivial percentage of women (roughly 20%) appear to give up employment entirely after a birth and roughly half of them will not have returned to work 5 years later. More importantly, the percentage that drop out of the labour force is increasing and has been for at least the past two decades. This decrease is particularly evident among more educated and older women. Further, among new mothers and fathers who maintain their employment through the perinatal period, there is evidence of other types of labour supply adjustments including significant decreases (mothers) and increases (fathers) in both usual monthly hours of work and hourly wages. There is also evidence of increased probabilities of job changing in the year just before and after the birth for fathers, but not for mothers. Together these findings provide a much richer perspective on how today’s dual-career families balance work and child rearing. In terms of its policy relevance, the findings emphasize the importance of measures that support parents in balancing work and family time, as opposed to measures that are focused on enabling parents, and particularly women, to maintain uninterrupted careers while raising children.

Suggested Citation

  • Mikal Skuterud, 2008. "Perinatal Family Labour Supply: Historical Trends and the Modern Experience," Working Papers 08001, University of Waterloo, Department of Economics, revised Feb 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:wat:wpaper:08001

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Michael Baker & Kevin Milligan, 2005. "How Does Job-Protected Maternity Leave Affect Mothers' Employment and Infant Health?," NBER Working Papers 11135, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Browning, Martin, 1992. "Children and Household Economic Behavior," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(3), pages 1434-1475, September.
    3. Jacob Alex Klerman & Arleen Leibowitz, 1994. "The Work-Employment Distinction among New Mothers," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 29(2), pages 277-303.
    4. Shelly Lundberg & Elaina Rose, 2002. "The Effects Of Sons And Daughters On Men'S Labor Supply And Wages," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 84(2), pages 251-268, May.
    5. Angrist, Joshua D & Evans, William N, 1998. "Children and Their Parents' Labor Supply: Evidence from Exogenous Variation in Family Size," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(3), pages 450-477, June.
    6. 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.
    7. Nakamura, Alice & Nakamura, Masao, 1985. "The Second Paycheck," Elsevier Monographs, Elsevier, edition 1, number 9780125138208.
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    Cited by:

    1. Zhang, Xuelin, 2008. "The Post-childbirth Employment of Canadian Mothers and the Earnings Trajectories of Their Continuously Employed Counterparts, 1983 to 2004," Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series 2008314e, Statistics Canada, Analytical Studies Branch.
    2. Zhang, Xuelin, 2008. "Emploi des meres canadiennes apres la naissance d'un enfant et trajectoires des gains de leurs homologues occupees de facon continue, 1983 a 2004," Direction des etudes analytiques : documents de recherche 2008314f, Statistics Canada, Direction des etudes analytiques.

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    JEL classification:

    • J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply


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