The Intergenerational Correlation of Employment: Mothers as Role Models


We document a substantial positive correlation of employment status between mothers and their children in the United States, linking data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (NLSY79) and the NLSY79 Children and Young Adults. After controlling for ability, education, fertility, and wealth, a one-year increase in a mother’s employment is associated with, on average, six weeks more employment of her child. The intergenerational transmission of maternal employment is stronger to daughters than to sons, and it is higher for low-educated and low-income mothers. Investigating potential mechanisms, we provide evidence for a role-model channel, through which labor force participation is transmitted. Children, especially daughters, 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 conditions within the local labor market.

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