A Developmental Perspective on the Link Between Parents’ Employment and Children’s Obesity

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Abstract

Despite public concerns about the negative implications of the increased labor force participation of mothers for child development, decades of research have revealed few risks and some benefits. One potential risk—a consistently observed association between maternal employment and childhood obesity—offers a window into how some dimensions of family health may be undermined by work in an economic and policy context that is not family friendly. The purpose of this article is to identify ways that a developmental perspective can enrich the literature on how children’s weight may be related to the work experiences of both mothers and fathers across diverse populations, a literature that heretofore has been dominated by economic and demographic perspectives, focused almost solely on women, and largely ignored racial/ethnic variation. After reviewing the extant literature, we put forward a conceptual model that uses ecological and developmental insights to identify the mechanisms by which parents’ employment might matter to children’s weight and discuss this model in the context of the contemporary landscape of family policy.

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