University of Wisconsin–Madison


Conwell, Jordan A. and Catherine Doren. Forthcoming. “Maternal Education, Family Formation, and Child Development: The Continuing Significance of Race.”  Journal of Marriage and Family.

Objective: Family formation patterns (and their attendant benefits for children) have diverged by maternal education in recent decades, but has there been racial variation in these trends?

Background: Theories of intersectionality and structural racism suggest that relationships between women’s educational attainment, family formation, and benefits for children may differ between Black, Hispanic, and White women who have completed the same amount of schooling.

Method: Using longitudinal data on mothers and children from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010-11 (, descriptive statistics examine racial variation within maternal education groups on a number of family formation characteristics. A series of regression analyses, stratified by maternal education, assess racial differences (by mother’s race) in reading scores at school entry among children of same-education mothers and reveal the extent to which variation in family patterns accounts for such differences.

Results: Black and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic mothers often (although not always) have significantly different family formation patterns compared to same-education White mothers. Controlling for these family characteristics largely attenuates and sometimes fully reverses significant Black-White gaps in children’s school-entry reading achievement within maternal education groups but does less to account for Hispanic-White gaps.

Conclusion: Race continues to have a structural influence on many family and child outcomes, over and above maternal education, particularly for Black mothers relative to same-education White mothers.

Schwartz, Christine R., Catherine Doren, and Anita Li. Forthcoming. “Trends in Years Spent as Mothers of Young Children: The Role of Completed Fertility, Birth Spacing, and Multiple Partner Fertility” in Analyzing Contemporary Fertility, edited by Robert Schoen. New York, NY: Springer.

The number of years women spend as mothers of young children likely has implications for women’s lifetime wages, earnings, and time use. Much prior research has pointed to widening education differences in a wide array of family patterns, but none has examined trends in the number of years women spend as mothers of young children. We use retrospective fertility data from the 2014 Survey of Income and Program Participation to show how changes in women’s completed fertility and birth spacing produce trends in years women spend as mothers of children under age six from 1967 to 2017. Despite remarkably parallel declines in completed fertility, growing educational differences in birth spacing produced educational divergence in years spent as mothers of young children. Particularly striking is the finding that increases in birth spacing reversed declines in years spent as mothers for women with less than a high school degree such that they spent more years with young children in the 2010s than in the late 1960s. The increasing prevalence of multiple partner fertility explains some but not all of these trends.

Doren, Catherine. 2019. “Which Mothers Pay a Higher Price? Education Differences in Motherhood Wage Penalties by Parity and Fertility Timing.” Sociological Science 6: 684-709.

Upon becoming mothers, women often experience a wage decline—a “motherhood wage penalty.” Recent scholarship suggests the penalty’s magnitude differs by educational attainment. Yet education is also predictive of when women have children and how many they have, which can affect the wage penalty’s size too. Using fixed-effects models and data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, I estimate heterogeneous effects of motherhood by parity and by age at births, considering how these relationships differ by education. For college graduates, first births were associated with a small wage penalty overall, but the penalty was larger for earlier first births and declined with higher ages at first birth. Women who delayed fertility until their mid-thirties reaped a premium. Second and third births were associated with wage penalties. Less educated women instead faced a wage penalty at all births and delaying fertility did not minimize the penalty.

Doren, Catherine and Katherine Y. Lin. 2019. “Diverging Trajectories or Parallel Pathways? An Intersectional and Life Course Approach to the Gender Earnings Gap by Race and Education.” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World 5: 1-23.

Integrating ideas about intersectionality with life course theories, we explore how trajectories of gender earnings inequality vary across race and education. Past research suggests that gender earnings gaps by race and education are narrower for more disadvantaged groups, yet it remains unknown whether these key differences amplify, decline, or remain constant over the life course. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, we estimate growth curve models of annual earnings, examining differences between Blacks and Whites and by educational attainment in the levels and slopes of men and women’s earnings from ages 22 to 47. Findings show that holding multiple forms of gendered, racial, and/or educational advantage has an interactive effect that accumulates across life. Accordingly, the gender gap expands most with age for Whites and the college-educated, where the male premium is compounded by racial and/or educational advantages.

Doren, Catherine. 2019. “Is Two Too Many? Parity and Mothers’ Labor Force Exit.Journal of Marriage and Family 81(2): 327-344.

How do women’s chances of labor force exit vary by the number of children they have? Conventional wisdom suggests there may be a tipping point at the second child when women are particularly likely to leave. Women who only ever have one child, by contrast, are thought to be uniquely unlikely to exit. Using data from the nationally representative 1979-2012 waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 (, event history methods estimate the likelihood of labor force exit as women progress across parity transitions. Results show no evidence for a tipping point around the birth of second children. Women are instead most likely to leave the labor force when they are pregnant with their first child and each subsequent child is associated with a smaller increase in the probability of exit. In addition, women who only ever have one child are less likely to leave the labor force than those who have more children and these differences arise as early as their pregnancies with their first children. College-educated women who only ever have one child are especially unlikely to exit. Findings thus do not support the second child tipping point hypothesis, but they emphasize the importance of completed parity and the transition to motherhood for mothers’ labor force behavior.

Doren, Catherine and Eric Grodsky. 2016. “What skills can buy: Transmission of advantage through cognitive and noncognitive skills.Sociology of Education 89(4): 321-342.

Parental income and wealth contribute to children’s success but are at least partly endogenous to parents’ cognitive and noncognitive skills.We estimate the degree to which mothers’ skills measured in early adulthood confound the relationship between their economic resources and their children’s postsecondary education outcomes. Analyses of National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 suggest that maternal cognitive and noncognitive skills attenuate half of parental income’s association with child baccalaureate college attendance, a fifth of its association with elite college attendance, and a quarter of its association with bachelor’s degree completion. Maternal skills likewise attenuate a third of parental wealth’s association with children’s baccalaureate college attendance, half of its association with elite college attendance, and a fifth of its association with bachelor’s degree completion. Observational studies of the relationship between parents’ economic resources and children’s postsecondary attainments that fail to account for parental skills risk seriously overstating the benefits of parental income and wealth.