Changes in the Employment Activities of New Parents

by Linda Waite, Gus Haggstrom, David E. Kanouse

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Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of the High School Class of 1972, this paper, a reprint of an article that originally appeared in American Sociological Review, v. 50, no. 2, Apr. 1985, examines the impact of the transition to parenthood on the amount of time men and women spend on paid employment. The majority of the women have jobs prior to pregnancy; most leave these jobs as the pregnancy progresses, so that only one woman in five remains employed in the month that the child is born. Some women return to work, but by two years after the birth, employment rates reach only 60 percent of their previous levels. In the absence of parenthood, the proportion employed would have steadily increased, so that the real employment deficit due to parenthood exceeds that implied by a comparison of employment before and after the birth. The most important contributor to women's decreased work activity following parenthood is withdrawal from employment. On virtually all measures used, fathers show higher levels of work activity than would be expected in the absence of the first birth, but this "parenthood effect" predates the pregnancy by a substantial amount.

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