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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Michelle J. Budig

Second Advisor

Naomi Gerstel

Third Advisor

Sanjiv Gupta

Fourth Advisor

Marta Murray-Close

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Work, Economy and Organizations


In this dissertation, I build upon the literature examining the motherhood wage penalty. Although previous research has found that much of this penalty can be explained by differences between mothers and childless women in human capital acquisition, job experience, work hours, and unobserved characteristics, these reasons do not fully explain the penalty. The portion of the penalty that remains unexplained is often attributed to some combination of discrimination against women by employers and lower work effort among mothers. In this dissertation, I examine another plausible mechanism: I consider the role that job changes and employment exits play in creating this penalty. In doing this, I draw on economic theories of job mobility that posit job changes play an important role in shaping workers’ wage trajectories. I also draw on signaling theory, which argues the reason workers leave their job and spend time in non-employment matters in shaping workers’ future wages.

I use panel data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1979 (NLSY79). This dataset follows a cohort of nearly 6,000 women who entered the labor market in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a time during which changing employers was becoming increasingly common. I use data from surveys conducted between 1979-2010 (the most recent year of data available). I apply event history and fixed effects models to examine how children shape women’s job changes and employment exits, and how these events, in turn, shape women’s wages. Throughout this dissertation, I examine how motherhood intersects with race/ethnicity, spouse characteristics, birth timing, and education to shape women’s labor market decisions and wage outcomes.

I found motherhood reduces the hazard that women will make the types of non-family voluntary job changes that often result in wage gains. I also found that different patterns of changing jobs and exiting the labor market contributes to roughly twenty percent of the unexplained motherhood wage penalty, and moreover, these differences help to explain why the wage penalty is largest for women who bear children early in adulthood. Finally, in examining the different reasons women spend time in non-employment, I found family-related interruptions are associated with larger short-term wage penalties compared to interruptions following a layoff, but the penalties for family-related interruptions persist over the long-term only among highly educated women.