Maternal employment and childcare during infancy and childhood overweight

Type Article

Journal Article


T. McDonnell; O. Doyle

Year of publication



Soc Sci Med







OBJECTIVE: This paper examines the joint impact of maternal employment and childcare during infancy on childhood weight at ages three and five in the context of weak social support for early childhood care and education. METHOD: Using three waves of longitudinal data from the Growing-Up in Ireland survey (n = 8,393 age three, n = 8,039 age five), propensity score matching is used to address the endogeneity of employment and childcare decisions. Selection on observables is used to assess potential bias arising from selection on unobservables whereby unobserved characteristics of the mother or child may jointly influence child weight and maternal employment and childcare. RESULTS: Full-time maternal employment at nine months combined with either formal or informal childcare increases the likelihood of being overweight at three years by 8.1% and 5.9% respectively, but only for children of highly educated mothers. Similar results are observed for part-time employment coupled with informal (7.5%) or parental (8.0%) care. The results for mothers with lower levels of education are either not significant or favourable. While the majority of the effects dissipate by age five, there is some evidence that full-time maternal employment coupled with informal care increases the risk of being overweight at both ages three and five for children of higher-educated mothers. An assessment of selection bias finds that the estimates of full-time employment combined with formal childcare by well-educated mothers are a lower bound, such that the true effect on child weight may be understated. CONCLUSIONS: The findings for Ireland are consistent with studies from the United States and the United Kingdom, and are in contrast to findings from the rest of Europe, suggesting the role of institutional factors, such as the lack of subsidised, universal, high-quality childcare.