Women's Employment During Pregnancy and After the First Birth

Occupational Characteristics and Work Commitment

by Sonalde Desai, Linda Waite

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This Note examines the argument that predominantly female occupations attract women because they are relatively easy to combine with family responsibilities. Some traditionally female occupations offer relatively low penalties for labor force withdrawal, but other "female" occupations reduce the costs of employment to mothers by facilitating the combination of worker and mother roles. The authors test the hypothesis that a woman's response to the characteristics of her occupation and to other factors depends on her preference for employment vs. homemaking over the long run. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, the analysis focuses on the period from the year prior to the first birth through the two years following the birth as the time of maximum conflict between employment and child rearing. The authors find no effect of occupational sex composition on the likelihood that prospective or recent mothers are employed. Occupational characteristics that raise the cost of labor force withdrawal (high education, wages, and job-specific training) tend to decrease the probability of women's withdrawal from work, as do nonmonetary occupational characteristics. All women respond to the cost of labor force withdrawal, but women with low work commitment also respond to financial pressures and convenience of the work setting.

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