Does care matter? Examining how the availability of childcare accelerates mother's time to labor force entry

Lisbeth Trille G. Loft, Brown University
Dennis P. Hogan
Mary Daly, Queen's University Belfast

Today women with young children account for a substantial share of the labor force. New mothers’ participation in paid employment has profound theoretical and practical implications for a broad variety of social relations including the need for families to balance work and family responsibilities. Although many studies have made substantial contributions to our understanding of women’s labor market participation, only a few have made a satisfactory assessment of the labor force decisions mothers face following the birth of a child. Using event history techniques we explore mothers’ use of childcare and time to labor force entry. We test the two classic hypotheses of economic capital negatively effecting mothers’ labor force participation, and human capital positively effecting mothers’ labor force participation, and introduces a third hypothesis: whether available child care – potentially understood as a form of capital - is positively associated with mothers’ subsequent labor force entry following a childbirth. The results provide strong support for this childcare capital hypothesis and suggest that mothers using any type of prior non-parental childcare have significantly higher odds of entering the labor force in any given week than mothers who did not use any prior non-parental childcare. The effect of using any prior non-parental childcare on the hazard of entering the labor force remains stable, strong, and significant when adding measures of economic and human capital as well as socio-demographic variables to the model. Thus, we argue that use of childcare must be included as a separate domain in the literature, since it is an essential and independent tool in mothers’ (and families’) navigation of the work-family dilemma alongside economic and human capital. The results presented in this paper add an important sociological perspective to previous research examining the use, cost and quality of childcare.

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Presented in Session 66: Work-family balance in Europe