Full-time Motherhood: Understanding Transition Dynamics

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In this dissertation, I investigate the determinants of labor force exits and entrances among married mothers with children under 15 considering work, family, and demographic characteristics, using the Survey of Income and Program Participation 1996 panel data. Three theoretical streams guide the research and interpret the findings--neoclassical economic theory, the life course perspective, and the gender perspective.

Using discrete-time event history analysis, I find that wives who outearn their husbands are more likely to exit the labor force. An interaction with other family income (excluding the wife's earnings) reveals that the main effect of the wife as a primary provider is negative, and primary provider wives are more likely to exit the labor force as other family income rises.

I also find that married mothers who delay childbearing are more likely to exit the labor force. An interaction with personal earnings lends support to the life course perspective's argument that delayed childbearers may believe that they can reenter the labor force without suffering downward mobility, as high earners who delay childbearing more likely to exit labor force. However, an interaction with education level does not, as delayed childbearers with a college degree are less likely to exit the labor force.

It appears that entrances are driven more by the human capital attributes and labor force commitment of the mother than by family considerations. The effect of predicted wages on entrances into part-time employment is positive, suggesting that married mothers who are predicted to attain higher wages may be able to use their higher market value to negotiate part-time employment.

Labor force exits do not appear to differ by the reason for the labor force exit--the determinants of labor force exits appear to be similar regardless of whether the mother exits to care for children and family or for other reasons. However, full-time mothers seem to be less inclined to enter the labor force than other mothers as full-time mothers with high predicted earnings are not more likely to enter the labor force and the introduction of a new baby is not related to a labor force entrance.