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June 2008, Vol. 131, No. 6
The timing of mothers’ employment after childbirth
Wen-Jui Han, Christopher J. Ruhm, Jane Waldfogel, and Elizabeth Washbrook
One of the most striking changes in American society in recent decades has been the dramatic rise in the labor force participation of women with children and, in particular, mothers of infants. In 1968, for instance, just 21 percent of women with a child younger than 1 year old were in the labor force.1 By 1986, this figure exceeded 50 percent and, although the increase has slowed since that time and appears to have stabilized since 2000, more than half of mothers of infants have participated in the labor force in every year since.2 There are important distinctions, however, among labor force participation, employment, and actually being "at work." Current data indicate that a majority of mothers of infants are both in the labor force and "at work" by the end of the first year postbirth. (See chart 1.)3 Thus, a mother working during the first year of her child’s life has become normative in the United States, in sharp contrast to the situation in the 1960s.
Yet, the statistic that more than half of mothers are at work within the first year after their child’s birth masks considerable variation in the timing of postbirth employment. This article focuses on that variation. In particular, the article examines how the timing of mothers’ work post-childbirth varies by their race or ethnicity, family structure, education level, age, and prior birth history. The article also considers how the timing of mothers’ work varies depending on whether or not they were employed immediately prior to the birth.
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1 The labor force participation rate for 1968 is from the U.S. Census Bureau, "Fertility Tables 2000," 2001, on the Internet at www.census.gov (visited Sept. 12, 2007). For an excellent overview of trends in maternity leave and employment from 1961 to 1995, see Kristin Smith, Barbara Downs, and Martin O’Connell, Maternity leave and employment patterns: 1961–1995, Current Population Reports (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001), pp. 70–79.
2 See Jane Lawler Dye, "Fertility of American Women: June 2004," Current Population Reports, 2005, pp. 20–555, on the Internet at www.census.gov/prod/2005pubs/p20–555.pdf (visited Dec. 12, 2007); and Sharon Cohany and Emy Sok, 2007, "Trends in labor force participation of married mothers of infants," Monthly Labor Review, February 2007, pp. 9–16.
3 See Jacob Alex Klerman and Arleen Leibowitz, 1994, "The work-employment distinction among new mothers," Journal of Human Resources, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 277–303, for a useful discussion of the distinction between labor force participation, employment, and being at work among new mothers.
Related BLS programs
Current Population Survey (Labor Force Statistics)
Trends in labor force participation of married mothers of infants.—Feb. 2007.
Trends in labor force participation in the United States.—Oct. 2006.
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