The Intergenerational Correlation of Employment: Mothers as Role Models


Linking data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) and the NLSY79 Children and Young Adults, we document a substantial positive correlation of employment status between mothers and their offspring in the United States. Relative to a never employed mother, one who is employed throughout her working-age life increases the probability of her offspring’s employment by 11 percent in each given year, after controlling for ability, education, fertility, and wealth. The intergenerational transmission of maternal employment is stronger to daughters but significant also to sons. Investigating potential mechanisms, we provide suggestive evidence for a role model channel, through which labor force participation is transmitted. Offspring seem to emulate the example of their mother when they observe her working. By contrast, we are able to rule out several alternative candidate explanations such as network effects, occupation-specific human capital and local conditions of the labor market.

Revise & Resubmit, Labour Economics