By Max Nisen
The decision to have both a child and a career is often presented as a zero sum game for women, one where it’s extremely difficult to excel in one area without sacrificing the other. A new NBER paper from researchers at Cornell and Denmark makes a strong case that that having a mother that works actually benefits a child’s academic performance if they live somewhere that actively supports them.
They took a look a massive dataset of academic outcomes for children in Denmark and found that the child of a woman who worked between 10-19 hours over the first four years of their child’s life will have a GPA that’s 2.6 percent higher, on average, than someone whose mother didn’t work at all. The effects are larger if you look at employment over 15 years of a child’s life. Changes in income don’t have much of an influence, which points to employment having a positive effect separate from any extra money.
The country has very generous leave policies, four weeks paid before delivery, 14 weeks afterwards, and 10 weeks additional that can be shared. Early child care is extremely generous. Denmark spends 1.2 percent of its GDP on early childhood care and education versus 0.4 percent in the U.S. Early child care and education is well funded, and well staffed, and many families take advantage. Generally, people work fewer hours as well.
Basically, it’s an environment where if a women chooses to work, the tradeoffs are much lower. Working doesn’t mean leaving a child alone for as long when they’re just weeks old, sacrificing education, or leaving them in an inferior environment while their parents are working. With that kind of support, the researchers found, the children of working mothers grow up to do better. All things equal, the mother will spend less time with her child. But other effects, like the fact that the child might have a hard working role model to look up to, appear to outweigh that.