The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Impacts of Maternal Employment On Gender Attitudes and Work Behavior - an Analysis From National Longitudinal Survey 1979, 1987 & 2004

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Tina Jiwatram, MSW, Doctoral Student, Columbia University, New York, NY
Shilpi Sharma, MSW, Doctoral Student, Columbia University, New York, NY
Julia Shu-Huah Wang, MS, MSW, Doctoral Student, Columbia University, New York, NY
Hans Young Oh, MSW, Doctoral Student, Columbia University, New York, NY
BACKGROUND. The impact of maternal employment on gender attitude formation and work behavior has been contested over the past few decades. Prior studies are often constrained to small samples of women and cross-sectional data that measure attitudes at one point in time. This study draws from a nationally representative sample taken as a part of a longitudinal survey. We examine the long-term impact of maternal employment on gender attitude formation and work behavior across time.

METHODS. This study utilizes data from the National Longitudinal Survey in 1979, 1987 and 2004, when respondents were in their adolescence, twenties and midlife, respectively. The dependent variable is measured using a gender attitude scale measuring respondents’ view of women in the workforce (0-12 scale, Cronbach’s alpha=0.84). Work behavior is measured by hours worked in the past calendar year. The main explanatory variable, maternal employment, is categorized as mothers who worked all year, part of the year or not at all in 1979. We treat data as pooled cross-sections since maternal employment was only captured in 1979. Ordinary least square (OLS) regression models are employed, controlling for major demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of respondents and parents. We interact year, gender, and type of maternal employment to delineate the cohort and gender trend across time.


RESULTS. Maternal employment is associated with a more liberal gender attitude towards women in the workforce. This relationship appears to last across the lifespan, from adolescence, to 20s to midlife (p<.01), and this association remains robust after controlling for covariates. Gender attitudes appear to be the most liberal in 1987, followed by 2004, and then 1979. Female respondents consistently demonstrate more liberal gender role attitudes towards women in the workforce than their male counterparts (p<.01).

Respondents whose mothers worked all year during 1979 tended to report significantly more work hours in 1987 (20s) and 2004 (midlife) (p<.01), compared to respondents whose mothers did not work at all. However, maternal employment predicts fewer hours worked by respondents in 1979 (when they were 14-18 years old). Overall, respondents worked the most hours in 2004, followed by 1987 and then 1979. Female respondents consistently reported fewer hours worked compared to their male counterparts across the life cycle and across different maternal employment statuses.


CONCLUSIONS and IMPLICATIONS. Our study shows that maternal employment exhibits long-term associations with more liberal gender attitudes and more hours worked. Such associations remain statistically significant up through midlife. Nevertheless, though female respondents report more liberal attitudes towards women working, their actual work hours are fewer when compared to men. Our findings contribute to the on-going discussion of maternal employment and gender role attitude formation and work behavior, to inform the discussion regarding employment incentives for mothers and family leave policies.