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The Impact of Maternal Employment on Child Wellbeing - What We Can Learn from UK and USA Research

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The notion of gender specialisation in production and reproduction has underpinned the economics of the family, welfare state policies and reflects a long tradition. It shaped welfare states along the Breadwinner model, and reinforced the expectations of generations.

By the 21st century women’s role in productive activities has been approaching gender equality, with motherhood being increasingly combined with employment even when children are very young.

This leaves the question of whether women’s economic activities are being achieved at the expense of outcomes for children.

This presentation reviews research looking at longitudinal data linking child development with the employment participation of their mothers during the child’s earliest years.

Professor Heather Joshi (Keynote Address at the ChildForum, NZ Early Childhood Research Conference, Christchurch, New Zealand, 6th May 2010).

The evidence comes from several UK cohort studies and a parallel analysis of the Mother and Child supplement to the US National Study of Youth 79. None of the associations is very well determined, possibly reflecting the large unpredictable element in any individual child’s progress.

On a  social level, as maternal employment became more common, supported by policies of maternity leave, part-time employment  and childcare, and a more favourable climate of opinion,  the negative  elements in the mixed and minor ‘effects’ in patterns of data have  become even more difficult to detect.

The latest UK data shows no evidence of an effect on the cognitive and behavioural scores of school aged children (though perhaps a little on child overweight).

The policy implication is to be aware of the possibilities for improving the terms on which parents  balance  bringing up children and earning a living, rather than  ordaining that mothers should not go out to work.

A copy of the presentation is provided below. Click on the file name.

Presentation_slides.Mothers_Work__Child-Wellbeing.pdf

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