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Maternal employment and child socio-emotional behaviour in the UK: longitudinal evidence from the UK Millennium Cohort Study
  1. Anne McMunn,
  2. Yvonne Kelly,
  3. Noriko Cable,
  4. Mel Bartley
  1. Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Anne McMunn, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, 1–19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK; a.mcmunn{at}


Background Mothers of young children are increasingly combining paid work with childrearing. Empirical evidence on the effects of maternal employment on children is contradictory and little work has considered the impact of maternal employment within the context of the employment patterns of both parents.

Methods Data on parental employment across three sweeps (when children were in infancy, age 3 and age 5 y) of the Millennium Cohort Study, a large nationally representative prospective birth cohort study, were used to investigate the relation between parental employment and child socio-emotional behaviour at age 5 years independent of maternal education, maternal depression or household income. The cumulative effect of maternal employment across the early years was investigated. The impact of maternal employment in the first year of life was separately examined as a potentially ‘sensitive period’.

Results There was no evidence of detrimental effects of maternal employment in the early years on subsequent child socio-emotional behaviour. There were significant gender differences in the effects of parental employment on behavioural outcomes. The most beneficial working arrangement for both girls and boys was that in which both mothers and fathers were present in the household and in paid work independent of maternal educational attainment and household income.

Conclusion No detrimental effects of maternal employment in the early years were seen. There were important gender differences in relationships between parental working arrangements and child socio-emotional outcomes.

  • Child socio-emotional behaviour
  • maternal employment
  • parental working arrangements
  • millennium cohort study
  • gender differences
  • child development

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  • Funding This research was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council-funded International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health (RES-596-28-0001).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study involves secondary analysis of publicly available data. Ethics approval for data collection was obtained from a Multi-centre Research Ethics Committee in the UK.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.