Maternal employment and child malnutrition in Ecuador
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20:13, 1–25 (2023)
Background: This paper estimates the causal impact of maternal employment on childhood malnutrition status in Ecuador to understand the trade-off between the time mothers devote to work and the time they dedicate to child-caring activities. Methods: We use the instrumental variables (IV) approach and exogenous cantonal variation in maternal labor market conditions to account for the potential endogeneity of mothers’ employment. The analysis employs the Ecuadorian National Health and Nutrition Survey 2018 and the Living Conditions Survey 2014. Results: The IV estimations indicate that maternal employment increases the probability of having stunted children by between 4.2 and 18.1 percent, while no significant effect is found in the case of children suffering from wasting, being underweight, or being overweight. The effect of maternal employment on stunting is stronger among mothers with high education and living in high-income households. Inconclusive effects of mothers’ overweight status are reported. The results are robust to several robustness checks. Conclusions: Overall, our findings suggest that the additional income that a working mother may obtain (the income effect) does not offset the loss of time available for direct childcare (the time constraint) in terms of child health status, and this effect is even more apparent for more affluent and more educated mothers. Government interventions, including effective conditional cash transfers and/or in-kind family policies, intended to reduce the cost of raising children among vulnerable families appear to be aligned with our findings.
Keywords: Ecuador, child nutrition, employment