International Journal of Public Health

, Volume 63, Issue 9, pp 1089–1098 | Cite as

Maternal employment and children’s socio-emotional outcomes: an Australian longitudinal study

  • Amir SalimihaEmail author
  • Francisco Perales
  • Janeen Baxter
Original Article



Among children, poor socio-emotional functioning leads to poor health and well-being during childhood and later in life, and so understanding its social determinants is important. This study’s objective is to examine how maternal employment influences children’s socio-emotional outcomes in an Australian sample of families with two biological parents, testing the mediating role of maternal mental health, parenting practices, and parental income.


We analyze six waves of panel data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (n = 7524 children, 29,701 observations) using random-effect models.


Children of employed mothers display better socio-emotional outcomes than children of non-employed mothers, though the effect magnitude is only moderate. Associations are stronger for internalizing than externalizing problems, and not mediated by parental mental health, parenting practices, or household income.


Our findings can inform sociopolitical debates on the social value of maternal labor force participation and its impacts on children. They suggest that incentivizing maternal employment should bear no detrimental consequences on their children’s socio-emotional functioning. The different associations found for children’s internalizing and externalizing problems stress the value of distinguishing these constructs.


Children Socio-emotional functioning Mental health Maternal employment Australia LSAC 



This research was supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course (Project No. CE140100027), and uses unit record data from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. The study is conducted in partnership between the Department of Social Services (DSS), the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). The findings and views reported in this paper are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the ARC, DSS, AIFS, or the ABS.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Life Course Centre, Institute for Social Science ResearchThe University of QueenslandCoogeeAustralia
  2. 2.Life Course Centre, Institute for Social Science ResearchThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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