Abstract

Women's ability to control their fertility through contraception and abortion has been shown to contribute to improvements in education and employment. At the same time, their employment and wages decline substantially when they transition to motherhood. About one-third of births are unintended, and it is unknown whether the impact of motherhood on employment, hours, and wages is smaller for women who planned their transition into motherhood compared with those who did not. To explore this, we examine fixed-effects models that estimate labor market outcomes using panel data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979–2014. We estimate models for Black and White women and find that the relationship between motherhood and employment is significantly more negative among White women who plan their transition into motherhood than among those who have an unplanned first birth. Among those who remain employed, we find that those with a planned first birth work fewer hours and have lower wages relative to those with unplanned births. We do not find significant evidence that the association between motherhood and labor market outcomes differs by fertility planning among Black women. Prior research shows how women's choices are structurally constrained by sociocultural norms and expectations and by a labor market that may not readily accommodate motherhood. In this context, our findings may reflect differences in women's motherhood and employment preferences and their ability to act on those preferences. Our analysis also makes a novel contribution to the large body of research that associates unplanned births with negative outcomes.