U.S. Mothers’ Long-Term Employment Patterns

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This is a paper in the Motherhood Penalty literature.


Killewald, Alexandra, and Xiaolin Zhuo. "US mothers’ long-term employment patterns." Demography 56, no. 1 (2019): 285-320.


To show the patterns of employment for mothers in the NLSY79 after they've had their first child


This paper shows a long-term perspective of employment patterns for 18 years after the birth rather than using just the immediate year or two after a woman has a child or a cross-sectional look at earnings after birth. It also uses a technique have not seen before, a sequence analysis, which allows for a grouping of somewhat desperate patterns into broader characteristics makes for a really nice way of describing the employment patterns


Mothers earn less than non-mothers; women earn less than men. This is an analysis that is very much descriptive but is very well done

Data & Key Variables

This uses the NLSY79, years 1979 to 2014. They have 3465 women, which is a good example for NLSY.  They also use several some samples married women or women who have had a pre-birth employment observed, but the base sample is 3465


They use a sequence analysis. They define a month-by-month employment sequence and then create dissimilarity matrix that measures how different any two sequences in the data are from each other and create clusters of those sequences. They end up with 5 clusters which they defined as full-time, part-time, early return, late return, and not employed. They can categorize each woman into one of those clusters which makes for a really nice way of describing the data


They find that 36% of their mothers are full-time after their first child is born, 13% are part-time, 21% are non employed, 15% return to the workforce after about six years and 14% return after 11 years of non-employment. They then look at the correlates of being in each of these groups using multinomial logit. They find that the full-time group is split between advantage and disadvantage. The disadvantaged have to work, they are low income, more likely to be a minority, less likely to be married.  The advantaged choose to work, possibly because the opportunity cost of not working is too high. They have a high pre-birth work intensity and earnings, are older at the time of first birth. The early return group that returns after 6 years have low human capital, low earnings and are more likely to be married. The part-time group is married, white, relatively high education - people who can choose work/life balance. The non-employed group tended to be not very attached the labor force even before they had a child and have their births earlier.