Maternal Employment, Work Schedules, and Children’s Body Mass Index


  • We are grateful for research support from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development to the second and third authors (Grant R01 HD057952), and for helpful comments from Heather Boushey, John Cawley, and Wen-Jui Han, and participants at colloquia presented at the Society for Research in Child Development biennial meeting, the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management annual meeting, the George Mason University, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and American University.

concerning this article should be addressed to Taryn W. Morrissey, Department of Public Administration and Policy, School of Public Affairs, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20016. Electronic mail may be sent to


Previous work has shown that mothers’ employment is associated with increases in children’s body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight for height. Nonstandard work (working evenings or nights, weekends, or an irregular shift) may also be associated with children’s BMI. This article examines the association between maternal work and children’s BMI and considers the influence of mothers’ nonstandard work schedules. Using data from school-age children (approximately 8 to 12 years) in the NICHD’s Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (N = 990), this study found that an increase in the total time a mother is employed is associated with an increase in her child’s BMI; additionally, the association between maternal employment and children’s weight is much stronger at 6th grade relative to younger ages. There was no evidence that maternal or home characteristics or children’s time use mediated these associations, nor was there any evidence that nonstandard work was associated with children’s BMI. Implications for policy and future research are discussed.