Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Timing of Childbearing and Women's Wages

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Timing of Childbearing and Women's Wages

Article excerpt

Early child bearers are more vulnerable to the adverse impact of children on wages than are those who delay childbearing. Early child bearers are likely to experience a higher wage penalty because their career interruptions occur during the critical period of career building. Education reduces the magnitude of the penalty. With the use of data from the young women cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey, I investigated the wage losses associated with the presence of children, net of work experience, while addressing unobserved heterogeneity. Consistent with life course theory, the timing of childbearing significantly influences the extent to which this event shapes women's life chances.

Key Words: birth timing, child wage penalty, fixed-effects model, life course theory, teenage childbearing.

The dramatic upward trend in women's employment over the past few decades has focused attention on the constraints and economic implications of motherhood. Maternal employment has become a fact of life, not only for working class families but also for the middle class. Currently, more than 60% of married women with children under 6 years old participate in the labor force, a twofold increase from 1970 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1997). Many mothers work because they have to. Their financial contribution is far from discretionary.

Rather, it is an important source of income to sustain the quality of family life.

Meanwhile, a growing number of women are delaying childbirth-the fertility rate for women in their thirties increased almost 50% from the mid1970s toward the end of the 1980s (Chandler, Karno, & Werbel, 1994). How do delays in childbirth affect women's wage attainment? Although the adverse impact of children on women's wages, known as the child wage penalty, is well established (Waldfogel, 1997), little research has been reported on the effect of birth timing on women's wages (but see Blackburn, Bloom, & Neumark. 1993).

Compared with women who first give birth later in life, those who bear children early in life tend to spend less time preparing for their careers. As a result, they risk becoming low wage earners when reentering the workforce. By contrast, women who delay childbirth usually experience a smaller wage loss associated with the presence of children because their career interruptions take place after the critical period of career building. In examining the varied effects of children on women's wages by birth timing, I also consider women who gave birth as teens, a group that is often overlooked in studies of maternal earnings.

Data came from the National Longitudinal Survey (NLS) of young women, a cohort bom between 1944 and 1954. In examining the effect of children on wages, net of work experience, the analysis addresses the issue of unobserved heterogeneity with a fixed-effects model. To establish a context for this research, I begin with three relevant issues in the literature: (1) the association between motherhood and pay, (2) the "direct" child wage penalty, and (3) the timing implications of career interruptions for women's wages.


Linking Motherhood and Pay

Neoclassical economists argue that women, and mothers in particular, receive lower wages because of their rational decisions to allocate more time to familial tasks than to paid jobs outside the home (Becker, 1981). Analysts seek to explain the lower wages of employed mothers by equating women's employment decisions with their commitment to careers. Little evidence exists that mothers voluntarily "choose" the kinds of paid jobs that are less demanding and are low paying in order to give them sufficient time and effort for their families. Neither is there evidence that low-paying jobs are less demanding (England, 1992). Nonetheless, mothers' employment behaviors often entail a tradeoff between a career and parental tasks.

Mothers' wages are largely influenced by the time they spend on paid work, and this time is significantly affected by the amount of family work they do. …

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