Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Maternal Employment and Food Purchased for at-Home Consumption

Saturday, November 14, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Christine Nicole Coyer, Cornell University
A robust body of literature suggests that maternal employment is associated with an increased risk of childhood obesity (Anderson et al., 2013; Anderson, 2011). Potential mechanisms for this effect of maternal employment on child body weight include decreased time spent grocery shopping, preparing meals, and eating with children (Cawley & Liu, 2012). As a result, children with working mothers are more likely to eat meals prepared away from home. Food prepared away from home increases average caloric intake among children by approximately 100 calories per meal (Mancino et al., 2010). 

However, less than half of all food expenditures are for food prepared away from home (US Department of Agriculture, 2012). Therefore, the majority of food is purchased for at-home consumption. This paper studies the effect of maternal employment on the quantity and the quality (as measured by the Healthy Eating Index) of food purchased for at-home consumption. I use Nielsen Consumer Panel data from 2006 to 2012 matched to UPC-level nutrition information to provide a detailed picture of the impact of maternal employment on household food purchases. Because maternal employment is likely endogenous to household food purchases, I estimate models using the youngest sibling’s kindergarten eligibility as an instrument for maternal employment (Morrill, 2011).

The impact of maternal employment on the quantity and the quality of food purchased for at-home consumption likely varies by household characteristics. For example, lower income working mothers may increase the quality of their children’s diets by purchasing more fruits and vegetables than they would have been able to afford without her income. Whereas, higher income mothers (with higher opportunity costs) may rely on more prepackaged ready-to-eat meals than they would have if they did not work. Therefore, I further investigate the quantity and the diet quality of food purchased for at-home consumption by income, education, and race. 

The existing literature on the mechanisms through which maternal employment affects childhood obesity has focused on child supervision and food prepared outside of the household (Cawley & Liu, 2012; Datar, Nicosia, & Shier, 2014; Morrissey, Dunifon, & Kalil, 2011). There is little consensus on whether or not these mediating factors affect child body weight. Therefore, I extend this body of literature by looking for other potential mechanisms within household expenditures on food purchased for at-home consumption.