Does Biology Drive Child Penalties? Evidence from Biological and Adoptive Families

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This is a paper in the Motherhood Penalty literature.


Kleven, H., Landais, C. and Søgaard, J.E., 2021. Does biology drive child penalties? evidence from biological and adoptive families. American Economic Review: Insights, 3(2), pp.183-98.


To investigate the labor market trajectories of women relative to men after the arrival of children in biological and adoptive families


The underlying explanations for the child penalty are underexplored. One explanation is biology. Only women can bear, give birth to, and breastfeed children. This paper explores this common explanation


Parenthood has large and persistent effects on the labor market outcomes of some, but not men across household types, countries, and time

Data & Key Variables

  • Statistics Denmark administrative registers (1980-2017)
    • Earnings, labor supply, education, children, etc.
  • Adoption registry (1988-2009),
    • Foreign adoptions
    • Supplemented with info on country of origin from general registers
    • 400-600 adoptions per year - total 16,260 children

Exclude mixed adopted-biological families

Exclude adoptees older than 5 at adoption


Event study run in levels, converted into percentages using the predicted outcome when omitting the contribution of event dummies. Reweighted sample of biological parents to match the distribution of background characteristics (age, education, pre-child earnings) of adoptive parents


There are large and persistent effects of children on gender gaps in both biological and adoptive families. The short-run impacts are somewhat larger in biological families, but the long-run impacts are virtually identical