Motherhood, migration, and self-employment of college graduates

  • Zhengyu Cai
  • Heather M. StephensEmail author
  • John V. Winters


Women face unique challenges in starting and running their own businesses and may have differing motives to men for pursuing self-employment. Previous research suggests that married women with families value the flexibility that self-employment can offer, allowing them to balance their family responsibilities with their career aspirations. This may be especially true for college graduates, who tend to have more successful businesses. Access to childcare may also affect their labor force decisions. Using American Community Survey microdata, we examine how birth-place residence, a proxy for access to extended family and childcare, relates to self-employment and hours worked for college graduate married mothers. Our results suggest that flexibility is a major factor pulling out-migrant college-educated mothers into self-employment. Additionally, it appears that, in response to fewer childcare options, self-employed mothers away from their birth-place work fewer hours, while self-employed mothers residing in their birth-place are able to work more hours per week.


Motherhood Migration Self-employment Childcare Hours worked 

JEL codes

J13 J22 L26 



The authors thank two reviewers, Daniel Crown, Julie Hotchkiss, Peter Orazem, Kathrine Richardson, Amanda Ross, seminar participants at Iowa State University and University of Alabama, and session participants at the Allied Social Science Associations Annual Meetings, the American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association International Meeting, the Southern Regional Science Association Meetings, and the North American Regional Science Council Meeting for their helpful comments.

Supplementary material

11187_2019_177_MOESM1_ESM.docx (21 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 21 kb)


  1. Black, D., Kolesnikova, N., & Taylor, L. J. (2014). Why do so few women work in New York (and so many in Minneapolis)? Labor supply of married women across US cities. Journal of Urban Economics, 79(C), 59–71. Scholar
  2. Black, S. E., Schanzenbach, D. W., & Breitwieser, A. (2017). The recent decline in women’s labor force participation. In D. W. Schanzenbach & R. Nunn (Eds.), The 51%: driving growth through women’s economic participation (pp. 5–17). Washington, DC: Brookings Retrieved from Accessed 22 April 2019.
  3. Boden, R. J. (1996). Gender and self-employment selection: an empirical assessment. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 25(6), 671–682. Scholar
  4. Boden, R. J. (1999). Flexible working hours, family responsibilities, and female self-employment. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 58(1), 71–83. Scholar
  5. Boyle, P., Cooke, T., Halfacree, K., & Smith, D. (1999). Gender inequality in employment status following family migration in GB and the US: the effect of relative occupational status. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 19(9/10/11), 109–143. Scholar
  6. Boyle, P., Cooke, T., Halfacree, K., & Smith, D. (2001). A cross-national comparison of the impact of family migration on women’s employment status. Demography, 38(2), 201–213. Scholar
  7. Budig, M. J. (2003). Are women’s employment and fertility histories interdependent? An examination of causal order using event history analysis. Social Science Research, 32(3), 376–401. Scholar
  8. Cai, Z., & Winters, J. V. (2017). Self-employment differentials among foreign-born STEM and non-STEM workers. Journal of Business Venturing, 32(4), 371–384. Scholar
  9. Caliendo, M., Fossen, F. M., Kritikos, A., & Wetter, M. (2014). The gender gap in entrepreneurship: not just a matter of personality. CESifo Economic Studies, 61(1), 202–238. Scholar
  10. Carr, D. (1996). Two paths to self-employment? Women's and men's self-employment in the United States, 1980. Work and Occupations, 23(1), 26–53. Scholar
  11. Cascio, E. U. (2009). Maternal labor supply and the introduction of kindergartens into American public schools. Journal of Human Resources, 44(1), 140–170. Scholar
  12. Compton, J. (2015). Family proximity and the labor force status of women in Canada. Review of Economics of the Household, 13(2), 323–358. Scholar
  13. Compton, J., & Pollak, R. A. (2007). Why are power couples increasingly concentrated in large metropolitan areas? Journal of Labor Economics, 25(3), 475–512. Scholar
  14. Compton, J., & Pollak, R. A. (2014). Family proximity, childcare, and women’s labor force attachment. Journal of Urban Economics, 79, 72–90. Scholar
  15. Compton, J., & Pollak, R. A. (2015). Proximity and co-residence of adult children and their parents in the United States: descriptions and correlates. Annals of Economics and Statistics, (117/118), 91–114.
  16. Cooke, T. J. (2001). ‘Trailing wife’ or ‘trailing mother’? The effect of parental status on the relationship between family migration and the labor-market participation of married women. Environment and Planning A, 33(3), 419–430. Scholar
  17. Cooke, T. J. (2003). Family migration and the relative earnings of husbands and wives. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 93(2), 338–349. Scholar
  18. Cooke, T. J. (2008). Migration in a family way. Population, Space and Place, 14(4), 255–265. Scholar
  19. Costa, D. L., & Kahn, M. E. (2000). Power couples: changes in the locational choice of the college educated, 1940–1990. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115(4), 1287–1315. Scholar
  20. Cristia, J. P. (2008). The effect of a first child on female labor supply: evidence from women seeking fertility services. The Journal of Human Resources, 43(3), 487–510. Scholar
  21. Cubas, G., Juhn, C., & Silos, P. (2018). Coordinated work schedules and the gender wage gap. Working Paper. Accessed 22 April 2019.
  22. Dolinsky, A. L., Caputo, R. K., Pasumarty, K., & Quazi, H. (1993). The effects of education on business ownership: a longitudinal study of women. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 18(1), 43–53. Scholar
  23. García-Morán, E., & Kuehn, Z. (2017). With strings attached: grandparent-provided childcare and female labor market outcomes. Review of Economic Dynamics, 23, 80–98. Scholar
  24. Givord, P., & Marbot, C. (2015). Does the cost of childcare affect female labor market participation? An evaluation of a French reform of childcare subsidies. Labour Economics, 36, 99–111. Scholar
  25. Gonalons-Pons, P., & Schwartz, C. R. (2017). Trends in economic homogamy: changes in assortative mating or the division of labor in marriage? Demography, 54(3), 985–1005. Scholar
  26. Greenwood, J., Guner, N., Kocharkov, G., & Santos, C. (2016). Technology and the changing family: a unified model of marriage, divorce, educational attainment, and married female labor-force participation. American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, 8(1), 1–41. Scholar
  27. Haeck, C., Lefebvre, P., & Merrigan, P. (2015). Canadian evidence on ten years of universal preschool policies: the good and the bad. Labour Economics, 36, 137–157. Scholar
  28. Heckman, J. J. (1979). Sample selection bias as a specification error. Econometrica, 47(1), 153–161.
  29. Hotchkiss, J. L., & Pitts, M. M. (2005). Female labour force intermittency and current earnings: switching regression model with unknown sample selection. Applied Economics, 37(5), 545–560. Scholar
  30. Hotchkiss, J. L., Pitts, M. M., & Walker, M. B. (2011). Labor force exit decisions of new mothers. Review of Economics of the Household, 9(3), 397–414. Scholar
  31. Joona, P. A. (2018). How does motherhood affect self-employment performance? Small Business Economics, 50(1), 29–54. Scholar
  32. Juhn, C., & Potter, S. (2006). Changes in labor force participation in the United States. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(3), 27–46. Scholar
  33. Kimmel, J. (1998). Childcare costs as a barrier to employment for single and married mothers. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 80(2), 287–299. Scholar
  34. Kuziemko, I., Pan, J., Shen, J., & Washington, E. (2018). The mommy effect: do women anticipate the employment effects of motherhood? NBER Working Paper No. 24740. Accessed 22 April 2019.
  35. Lefebvre, P., Merrigan, P., & Verstraete, M. (2009). Dynamic labour supply effects of childcare subsidies: evidence from a Canadian natural experiment on low-fee universal childcare. Labour Economics, 16(5), 490–502. Scholar
  36. Leoni, T., & Falk, M. (2010). Gender and field of study as determinants of self-employment. Small Business Economics, 34(2), 167–185. Scholar
  37. Li, G., & Mroz, T. A. (2013). Expected income and labor market choices of US married couples: a locally weighted regression approach. Regional Science and Urban Economics, 43(6), 985–995. Scholar
  38. Loscocco, K. A. (1997). Work–family linkages among self-employed women and men. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 50(2), 204–226. Scholar
  39. Maguire, K., & Winters, J. V. (2017). Satisfaction and self-employment: do women benefit more from being their own boss? Oklahoma State University, Department of Economics and Legal Studies in Business. Working Paper. Accessed 22 April 2019.
  40. Malamud, O., & Wozniak, A. (2012). The impact of college on migration: evidence from the Vietnam generation. Journal of Human Resources, 47(4), 913–950. Scholar
  41. Maxwell, N. L. (1988). Economic returns to migration: marital status and gender differences. Social Science Quarterly, 69(1), 108–121 Accessed 22 April 2019.
  42. Mincer, J. (1978). Family migration decisions. Journal of Political Economy, 86(5), 749–773. Scholar
  43. Noseleit, F. (2014). Female self-employment and children. Small Business Economics, 43(3), 549–569. Scholar
  44. Overturf Johnson, J. (2005). Who's minding the kids? Childcare arrangements: winter 2002. Current Population Reports, U.S Census Bureau, 70–101.Google Scholar
  45. Patrick, C., Stephens, H., & Weinstein, A. (2016). Where are all the self-employed women? Push and pull factors influencing female labor market decisions. Small Business Economics, 46(3), 365–390. Scholar
  46. Pencavel, J. (1998). Assortative mating by schooling and the work behavior of wives and husbands. American Economic Review, 88(2), 326–329 Accessed 22 April 2019.
  47. Posadas, J., & Vidal-Fernandez, M. (2013). Grandparents’ childcare and female labor force participation. IZA Journal of Labor Policy, 2(14), 1–20.
  48. Robinson, P. B., & Sexton, E. A. (1994). The effect of education and experience on self-employment success. Journal of Business Venturing, 9(2), 141–156. Scholar
  49. Sandell, S. H. (1977). Women and the economics of family migration. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 59(4), 406–414. Scholar
  50. Schwartz, C. R., & Mare, R. D. (2005). Trends in educational assortative marriage from 1940 to 2003. Demography, 42(4), 621–646. Scholar
  51. Shihadeh, E. S. (1991). The prevalence of husband-centered migration: employment consequences for married mothers. Journal of Marriage and Family, 53(2), 432–444. Scholar
  52. Sjoquist, D. L., & Winters, J. V. (2014). Merit aid and post-college retention in the state. Journal of Urban Economics, 80, 39–50. Scholar
  53. Wellington, A. J. (2006). Self-employment: the new solution for balancing family and career? Labour Economics, 13(3), 357–386. Scholar
  54. Winn, J. (2005). Women entrepreneurs: can we remove the barriers? The International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 1(3), 381–397. Scholar
  55. Winters, J. V. (2017). Do earnings by college major affect graduate migration? The Annals of Regional Science, 59(3), 629–649. Scholar
  56. Wiswall, M., & Zafar, B. (2018). Preference for the workplace, investment in human capital, and gender. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 133(1), 457–507. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Development StudiesSouthwestern University of Finance and EconomicsChengduChina
  2. 2.Global Labor Organization (GLO)EssenGermany
  3. 3.West Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  4. 4.Department of EconomicsIowa State UniversityAmesUSA
  5. 5.Institute of Labor Economics (IZA)BonnGermany

Personalised recommendations