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The Effect of Fertility on Mothers’ Labor Supply over the Last Two Centuries

System Working Paper 17-26 | Published November 13, 2017

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Authors

Rajeev Dehejia New York University

Andrew Jordan University of Chicago

Cristian Pop-Eleches Columbia University

Cyrus Samii New York University

Karl Schulze Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

The Effect of Fertility on Mothers’ Labor Supply over the Last Two Centuries

Abstract

This paper documents the evolving impact of childbearing on the work activity of mothers. Based on a compiled dataset of 441 censuses and surveys between 1787 and 2015, representing 103 countries and 48.4 million mothers, we document three main findings: (1) the effect of fertility on labor supply is small and typically indistinguishable from zero at low levels of development and economically large and negative at higher levels of development; (2) this negative gradient is remarkably consistent across histories of currently developed countries and contemporary cross-sections of countries; and (3) the results are strikingly robust to identification strategies, model specification, data construction, and rescaling. We explain our results within a standard labor-leisure model and attribute the negative labor supply gradient to changes in the sectoral and occupational structure of female jobs as countries develop.