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Economics of Motherhood

Paper Session

Sunday, Jan. 7, 2018 10:15 AM - 12:15 PM

Pennsylvania Convention Center, 111-A
Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: Amalia Miller, University of Virginia

Do Women Want to Work More or More Regularly? Evidence From a Natural Experiment

Clementine Van Effenterre
Harvard Kennedy School
Emma Duchini
Warwick University


This paper provides causal evidence that women's quest for temporal flexibility is especially costly in high-skilled occupations. Since 1972, French children had no school on Wednesday. In 2013, a reform reallocated some classes to Wednesday morning. Exploiting variation in the implementation of this reform over time and across the age of the youngest child, we show that, once institutional constraints are relaxed, mothers are more likely to work full-time and on Wednesday. By signaling their availability to work long and regular hours, high-skilled mothers also experience an increase in hourly wages corresponding to 30% of the pre-reform gap with the control group.

The Effect of Maternal Psychological Distress on Children's Cognitive Development

Victor Ronda
Aarhus University


This paper investigates how maternal mental health, measured by psychological distress, affects family investments and shapes children's cognitive skills. I provide a model that incorporates ideas from both sociology and psychology into a fairly standard economic model of maternal investments. This model allows me to separate the different mechanisms that relate maternal mental health to children's cognition. In order to estimate the causal effect of mental health, I control for the endogeneity of mental health as well as the inherent measurement error in mental health constructs. For the former, I use variation among U.S. states in mental health insurance coverage laws. For the latter, I use an item response theory approach. Using a longitudinal data set from the U.S., the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and its Child Development supplement (PSID-CDS), I find that maternal psychological distress mainly affects children through a decrease in the productivity (quality) of maternal time investments. My findings support two policy interventions that mitigate this effect. My findings suggest that mental health treatment for at-risk mothers can have significant payoffs for children and is much more cost effective than comparable income transfers. Moreover, my findings suggest that programs that improve maternal parenting can have large benefits for children of at-risk mothers.

The Implicit Costs of Motherhood Over the Lifecycle: Cross-cohort Evidence From Administrative Longitudinal Data

Christian Neumeier
University of Konstanz
Todd A. Sorensen
University of Nevada-Reno
Douglas Webber
Temple University


It is well known that the explicit costs of raising a child have grown over the past several decades. Less well understood are the implicit costs of having a child, and how they have changed over time. In this paper, we are the first to examine the evolution of the implicit costs of motherhood over the lifecycle and across generations using high quality administrative data. We estimate that the lifetime labor market income gap between mothers and non-mothers decreases from around $350,000 to $280,000 between women born in the late 1940s and late 1960s. Gaps tend to increase monotonically over the lifecycle, and decrease monotonically between cohorts. Our evidence suggests that changes in the gaps are causes by changing labor force participation rates on the extensive margin.

Patterns in Women’s Subjective Well-being by Work and Family Status in the United States –An Empirical Complement to the “Having It All” Conversation

Ipshita Pal
Columbia University


“Having it all”, meaning both family and paid work outside the home, as the marker of a successful life, is intuitively appealing and pervasive in conversations about women’s lives in the United States. However, there is limited empirical evidence on this question, whether “having it all” is indeed associated with greater subjective well-being (SWB) –a cognitive evaluation of one’s life, taking all things into consideration. In this paper, utilizing data from large, nationally representative surveys and employing ordinary least squares and treatment effects models, I describe patterns in women’s SWB by work and family status. I find well-being gains to being a parent and being employed but a well-being penalty to being an employed parent. Moreover, I find higher SWB for women with one role –working but not raising families or raising families but not working –than women with both. These patterns hold for every socio-economic status except the lowest. I explore the meaning of these patterns and contradictions through several alternate explanations.
JEL Classifications
  • J1 - Demographic Economics