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Women and Work: Moms Work Less When First-Born is a Boy

gender studies, economists

"Of course Mom's not here, she's at work where she wouldn't be if I were a boy."

Could it have been that the so-called opt-in/opt-out Mommy Wars were really a battle of the sexes — the sexes of those warring mamas’ babies?

Three European economists find in a new study that whether — and how many hours per week — a mom works after giving birth the first time depends on whether a woman’s first-born is a boy or a girl.

What’s interesting, is that they conclude it has nothing to do overtly with a preference for boys.

In Italy, Sweden, the U.S. and the U.K., researchers found that first-time moms of boys were statistically less likely to work a typical week — and for fewer hours — than if her first-born was a girl. Conclusions of the study connect this to the fact that women in more developed countries with first-born sons also tended to have more babies — which takes them out of the workforce more as a result.

In less-developed countries, women whose first-born were girls tended to have more babies, what researchers call a “desire for son” effect, according to the Wall Street Journal‘s Real Time Economics blog on the study, which was published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research.

But offsetting that, economists Andrea Ichino, Elly-Ann Lindstrom, and Eliana Viviano write another statistically significant girl-boy difference: the fact that mothers of first-born girls are 4 percent more likely to wind up divorced than women who give birth to boys the first time around.

So, women with first-born daughters work more — because they have to. They’re single moms. Women with first-born sons worked less as a group, because they were still married; they stay out of the workforce longer because they’re having more kids.

I wonder if there isn’t a “desire for girl” effect playing a role in the fact that moms of boys work less. There has been more than one study showing that more families are using gender selection technology in order to conceive girls than boys. I’d like to know if the moms-of-girls-get-divorced stat also offsets the growing trend of preferring girls in the U.S.

Photo: kyle and kelly adams via flickr

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