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Mothers’ employment patterns and child behaviour: Comparing Scotland and Germany

The number of working women has markedly increased in recent decades. In this process, many debates have focused on how the children of working mothers fare in terms of well-being and development: On the one hand, maternal employment may negatively impact children because employed mothers have less time to spend with their child and they may be more stressed than non-employed mothers. On the other hand, increased family income and satisfaction derived from work may have positive effects on children. Maternal employment is socially stratified. Working in low-skilled occupation or stressful working conditions is more likely to be experienced by women in less favourable life conditions, particularly, low educated mothers. If these working conditions negatively affect child outcomes, then social inequalities are likely to accumulate. Therefore, studying the impact of maternal employment on child outcomes may shed light on processes of cumulative disadvantage in the early life course.
The key research questions are:
•    Does maternal employment affect the socio-emotional wellbeing of children growing up with a lone mother?
•    Do these effects differ according to maternal education?

Type of inequality
The analysis focuses on differences between children of mothers with a degree-level qualification and those with lower levels of education.

In our paper, we examine the effect of maternal employment history on subsequent child behaviour problems in Germany and Scotland using the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) data and the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP). Both datasets provide yearly information on mother’s employment as well as children’s behaviour around age 6. All analyses use Inverse Probability of Treatment Weights to account for the selection of mothers in employment.

Key findings
Overall, maternal employment does not affect children’s behaviour. Maternal employment is associated with slightly fewer behavioural problems in Scotland and Germany, and we observe the small benefits of part-time employment in Scotland. Regarding the question of whether the employment of less-educated mothers is more harmful to their child's behaviour compared to better-educated mothers, we find that in Scotland part-time employment of mothers without a degree is somewhat beneficial for their children. In contrast, in Germany, part-time employment of mothers with a degree is associated with more behavioural problems for children.

Policy implications
The findings highlight the importance of supporting the re-entry to the employment of mothers with lower levels of education in Scotland.

 For more information, please contact Professor Marita Jacob.

This project also involves Dr Michael Kühhirt at the University of Cologne.

Research Team

Professor Marita Jacob