Maternal Employment Stability, Intensity, and Quality: Exploring the Links with Children’s School Readiness and Later Educational Outcomes
Natasha Pilkauskas

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Michigan

Primary Discipline

Human Development
Gaps in school readiness explain about half of later disparities in school achievement and children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds start the farthest behind (Duncan & Murnane, 2011). To close gaps in school readiness, we need to better understand what factors produce those gaps. One understudied contributing factor to school readiness is the role of maternal employment, and in particular, employment stability, intensity, and quality. In 1975, 39% of mothers with children under 6 were in the labor force, today that figure is 64% (BLS 2016). Among economically disadvantaged groups the increase in maternal employment has been even greater and these mothers often face unstable, low intensity, or poor quality employment (Kalleberg, 2009). By understanding whether particular types of maternal employment put children at a greater risk of not being ready for school, we can consider how early educational policies and interventions, and resource targeting once children are in school, might mitigate educational disparities.Using unique employment calendar data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal birth cohort study, I will examine the links between the characteristics of maternal employment during early childhood and gaps in school readiness (literacy, math, and behavioral skills). I will explore three questions: (1) Is maternal employment stability, intensity, and quality between birth and age 5 linked with school readiness (at age 5) and later school outcomes (at ages 9 and 15)? (2) Do the associations vary by developmental timing of the employment (e.g. infancy versus toddlerhood)? And (3) are there differences in the associations by marital status, race/ethnicity, or socio-economic status of the mothers? This research will shed light on the factors that contribute to gaps in school readiness between advantaged and disadvantaged children, so that we may better craft policies and interventions to close those gaps.
About Natasha Pilkauskas
Natasha Pilkauskas is an assistant professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. The overarching goal of her research is to consider how public policy might improve the life trajectories and development of low-income children. Much of her research focuses on the living arrangements of low-income children, especially those who live with grandparents, and links with school outcomes. Past and current projects also investigate the role of the family and public policy in helping low-income families make ends meet, including research on doubling up, private financial transfers, maternal employment, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the effects of the Great Recession. Her dissertation research was funded by an AERA dissertation grant and she has published in a variety of journals including the Journal of Marriage and Family, Demography, Developmental Psychology, and the American Journal of Public Health. Dr. Pilkauskas received her B.A. in Economics and Sociology from Northwestern University, a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University, and a PhD in Social Welfare Policy from Columbia University. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Columbia Population Research Center and at Cornell University. Prior to graduate school she worked as a political pollster and as a policy analyst evaluating various social policy programs.

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