Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Earning Power of Mothers and Children's Time Allocation in Lao PDR

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Earning Power of Mothers and Children's Time Allocation in Lao PDR

Article excerpt


Feminist scholars have opened up the 'black box" of the household to better understand how the effects of opportunities and constraints vary among household members. An important advance has been the emphasis given to the role of mothers in improving their children's wellbeing outcomes. Evidence, however, has revealed unexpected puzzles in the relationship between a mother's earnings and her children's wellbeing outcomes. On the one hand, child welfare improves as a mother's contribution to household resources increases (Thomas, 1997). On the other hand, children's schooling may suffer when a mother's work shifts from non-market to market settings (Levison, Moe, & Marie Knaul, 2001). Understanding the relationship between mothers' work and children's time allocation between school and work is more than a scholarly puzzle, it is essential to the design of social policies that seek to improve the welfare of women and children living in the developing countries.

In this article, I explore the relationship between a mother's share of household income and her children's work and school outcomes. Conceptually, I draw on the dynamic between income and substitution effects: increases in the earning power of a mother may push her children to school through the income effect or, conversely, may pull her children to work through the substitution effect. Empirically, I seek to understand the relationship between a mother's share of total household earnings and her children's school and work outcomes, using a dataset from Lao PDR. As we shall see, as a mother's share of household earnings increases, her children shift time away from school and wage work to work under parental control. The results suggest that in the short term household controlled work may become contested terrain between a mother and her children.

I begin with a review of the relevant literature on the allocation of work between mothers and children, setting the conceptual framework. I then describe the country context focusing on key indicators. Section 4 introduces the data and presents summary statistics. I then discuss my empirical strategy and the results, focusing on gender-based differences. In the conclusion, I very briefly discuss some implications of the results and propose future research directions.

Relevant Literature

Feminist economists and anthropologists were among the first to draw attention to an increase in children being deployed to work along with their mothers in the aftermath of neoliberal policies (Beneria, 1992; Elson, 1982; Townsend, 1993). Research has shown that unexpected income shocks have led families to increase their reliance on the contributions of children to household resources, and working mothers sometimes find employment for their children (Brewis & Lee, 2010; DeGraff & Levison, 2009; Guarcello, Mealli, & Rosati, 2010; Self, 2011). Consider the case of micro-credit recipient households: alleviating credit constraints has helped many poor households and women in these households to improve their level of consumption, yet evidence indicates that mothers receiving micro-credits frequently resort to deploying the labor of their children as substitutes (Hazarika & Sarangi, 2008; Shimamura & Lastarria-Cornhiel, 2010).

A careful analysis of the allocation of work between mothers and children is required, because in addition to mothers caring for their children, mothers are also the primary household member who would control (and benefit from) the work of children. Anthropological research has demonstrated that children's work reduces the work load of adults, and particularly that of mothers (Bradley, 1993; Punch, 2003). Often children, especially girls, act as care takers with substantial care responsibilities for young, disabled, ill, or elderly household members, thus freeing the mothers' time (Evans, 2010; Hames & Draper, 2004). In some cases children supply non-market work to adults at the expense of their schooling (Amin, Quayes, & Rives, 2006; Assaad, Levison, & Zibani, 2010; Cockburn & Dostie, 2007). …

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