Maternal Employment and Children’s Body Mass Index: The Importance of Developmental Timing and Work Intensity

Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, Cornell University
Rachel Dunifon, Cornell University

Previous literature indicates that maternal employment is positively associated with children’s body mass index (BMI). However, the associations between maternal employment and child BMI may vary by employment intensity (work hours) and by the developmental period in which it occurs. Our paper tests the relationship between maternal employment over a child’s lifetime and his or her BMI at age 13 or 14. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) and the Children of the NLSY, and controlling for a host of characteristics of the child and mother, we find statistically significant associations between maternal employment in middle childhood (between ages six and 10) and body mass index, obesity, and overweight during adolescence. This relationship is found mainly among those who work more than 20 hours per week. We further find these effects are limited to children whose mothers have at least some college education or more.

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Presented in Session 64: Parental Influences on Childhood Obesity