Returning to work: The effects of family policy, motherhood, and schooling on women in the workforce

Whitney B Schott, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation explores three distinct influences on women's participation in the workforce following the transition to motherhood. First, I examine the indirect effects of U.S. family leave policy on returning to work at part-time status. Using a multinomial logit model, this paper tests whether family leave is associated with an increase in return to work at part-time status among first-time mothers working full-time during their pregnancy. I find a statistically significant trend of increasingly higher odds of returning to work at part-time status relative to return at full-time status, beginning in 1993 (the year in which the FMLA is implemented). This chapter provides evidence that job protection through leave legislation may help facilitate higher levels of labor force participation among women with small children, through more flexible work arrangements. The second chapter takes an instrumental variables approach to estimate the causal impact of motherhood on employment among women of prime childbearing ages in the United States. Using fecundity to instrument for having at least one child and data from the National Survey of Family Growth, I find that motherhood leads to a decline in participation of 26 percentage points overall for married or partnered women, and a decline of 4.8 in the number of months worked in the last year, compared to childless women. This evidence suggests that there is a direct, causal link from having children to working substantially less. Third, I estimate the impact of schooling on leave time using rich registry data on twins in Denmark. Economic and sociological theory predict that higher levels of human capital may lead women to work sooner following childbirth. I employ a hazard model with fixed effects, to estimate the causal impact of schooling on return hazard. While both schooling and years of experience are significantly associated with earlier return when pooling all twins, once fixed effects control for genetic and familial background characteristics, schooling loses significance and only experience matters. These findings support a human capital theory of return following childbirth insomuch as years of experience reflects job-or industry specific human capital.

Subject Area

Womens studies|Individual & family studies|Demography

Recommended Citation

Schott, Whitney B, "Returning to work: The effects of family policy, motherhood, and schooling on women in the workforce" (2011). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3475913.