Parental Employment and Child Cognitive Development

Christopher J. Ruhm

NBER Working Paper No. 7666
Issued in April 2000
NBER Program(s):Children, Health Care, Health Economics

This study investigates the relationship between parental employment and child cognitive development using data from multiple years of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Maternal labor supply during the first three years of the child's life is predicted to have a small negative effect on the verbal ability of 3 and 4 year olds and a substantial detrimental impact on the reading and math achievement of 5 and 6 year olds. Working during the second and third years appears to have less favorable or more deleterious consequences when the mother is also employed in the first year. The results are robust to the inclusion of controls for day care arrangements or paternal job-holding and there is some indication that early employment may be particularly costly for children in traditional' two-parent families. Finally, the data suggest that paternal and maternal employment have qualitatively similar effects, hinting at the importance of time investments by fathers. The overall conclusion is that previous research may have provided an overly optimistic assessment of the effects of parental employment on child cognitive development.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w7666

Published: Christopher J. Ruhm, 2004. "Parental Employment and Child Cognitive Development," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 39(1). citation courtesy of

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