Like mother, like daughter? Societal Determinants of Maternal Labor Supply – Evidence from the German reunification

Does the culture a woman grows up in influence her return-to-work decisions after childbirth? And to what extent can the culture of the current social environment shape maternal labor supply? To address these questions, we exploit the unique setting of the German reunification. As a state socialist country, East Germany strongly encouraged mothers to participate in the labor market full-time, whereas West Germany propagated a more conservative male breadwinner-model. After reunification, these two cultures clashed. Comparing East and West German mothers at both sides of the inner German border, within the same integrated local labor market, we first show that East German mothers still return to work faster and at a higher rate and work longer hours than West German mothers. Exploiting migration across the former inner-German border and comparing mothers within the same firm we investigate whether women adjust to the culture they migrate to: Whereas West German mothers, who were raised in a more conservative background culture, speed up their return behavior when immersed to the more egalitarian East German culture, East German mothers appear hardly affected by exposure to the more conservative West German culture. Together, our findings highlight that although gender norms appear to be persistent, a mother’s labor supply decisions can be affected by exposure to a more egalitarian culture in adulthood.

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