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The Varying Effects of Maternal Employment on Post-80s’ Education Attainment in China

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Characterised by the Reform/Opening-up and 9-year compulsory education, etc., the post-80s cohort occupies a unique pinnacle in China’s history. Meanwhile, since the 1980s, the Single-child policy has been accompanied by a notable increase in maternal employment, which renders internal changes to what were assumed to be ‘normal (nuclear) families’. Whether/how does maternal employment influence post-80s’ education attainment? Provided the ever-widening gap between rural and urban China, how does the effect vary across regions? Whether/how does the effect differ between gender? Drawing on data from the China Family Panel Studies, we examine the varying effects of maternal employment on post-80s’ education dropout hazard in and beyond the 9-year scheme. We found that maternal employment has a stronger effect in reducing post-80s’ education dropout in urban than rural China. This effect is weaker for females than males. Previous research suggests maternal employment affects children’s educational attainment through shaping their aspirations. Our results only partly support this claim: the ‘aspirational effect’ is noted among females, but not among males. Three implications are noteworthy: (1) while changes in family structure (e.g. multigenerational co-residence, divorce, etc.) have a notable impact on children’s education, internal variation in parents’ gender role also has a significant impact on children’s education, and (2) such impact could be as significant as family socioeconomic and cultural statuses; (3) the effects of maternal employment on children’s education are context-dependent and gender-specific.

This talk is part of the FERSA Guest Lectures series.

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