Maternal employment and children's achievement in context: a meta-analysis of four decades of research

Psychol Bull. 2008 Jan;134(1):77-108. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.134.1.77.


This meta-analysis of 68 studies (770 effect sizes) used random effects models to examine whether children's achievement differed depending on whether their mothers were employed. Four achievement outcomes were emphasized: formal tests of achievement and intellectual functioning, grades, and teacher ratings of cognitive competence. When all employment was compared with nonemployment for combined and separate achievement outcomes without moderators, effects were nonsignificant. Small beneficial effects of part-time compared with full-time employment were apparent for all achievement outcomes combined and for each individual achievement outcome. Significant sample-level moderators of the associations between maternal employment and achievement for all outcomes combined included family structure, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status; associations were positive when samples were majority 1-parent families and mixed 1- and 2-parent families, racially/ethnically diverse or international in composition, and not middle-upper class. Analyses of child gender indicated more positive effects for girls. Children's age was a significant moderator for the outcome of intellectual functioning. The identification of sample-level moderators of the relationship between maternal employment and children's achievement highlights the importance of social context in understanding work-family linkages.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child Care / psychology
  • Child Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Educational Status
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Ethnicity / psychology
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Family / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / physiology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Racial Groups / psychology
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Time Factors