Poster Paper: Maternal Employment and Mother-Child Interaction

Saturday, November 9, 2013
West End Ballroom A (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Frank Heiland, Baruch College and Joseph Price, Brigham Young University
For millions of working mothers the challenge of balancing the time demands of income-generating market work and family activities are all too real. The secular rise in female labor force participation over the past half century, particular among mothers, has prompted much public and academic debate about the potential adverse effects of maternal employment on children. Time spent with children has been accepted as a crucial dimension of the developmental needs and success of children (Bulanda and Lippmann, 2009). Empirically, the total amount of time parents spent with their children is skewed toward young age (e.g., Yeung et al., 2001), where it is believed to yield the greatest developmental benefit (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000).

Conceptually, maternal time spent in market work is expected to reduce maternal time spent with the child, which, in turn, may reduce child well-being and development. However, both relationships are subject to complex moderating factors. The amount of time available per child is moderated by employment and work characteristics (full-time vs. part-time schedule, type of work, etc.), family structure and environment (presence of substitute caregivers, other children, etc.), as well as parental characteristics (effectiveness in providing care, ability to cope with work stress, etc.). The effect of maternal time on child achievement will depend on the type and “quality” of the mother-child interaction, namely how well child needs are met and stimulating inputs are provided, as well as to what extent other child inputs that substitute (replace) or complement (enhance) maternal time are provided (other caregivers, resources, etc.).

The present paper focuses on one important element in this causal chain: the relationship between maternal employment and time spent in quality mother-child interactions. Child achievement oriented activities may serve as a mechanism through which working mothers try to mitigate the effect of greater time scarcity due to employment. Specifically, we investigate to what degree the mode of employment (full-time vs. part-time) and hours worked influence time spent on quality mother-child activities.

Using data from the NLSY79, PSID-CDS, and ATUS, we estimate the effect of work hours on the total amount of quality time the mother spends with her children. Preliminary results suggest that full-time work is associated with about 40-50 minutes less quality mother-child time each day and specifically less time spent reading together. Differences in quality mother-child interactions for part-time vs. non-working mothers are less pronounced and are not robust to controls for basic demographic characteristics in some cases. Lastly, the results suggest that college educated mothers provide substantially more quality interaction than mothers with less education but this gap is significantly reduced among women who work full-time.