Working Paper

Does Access to Free Pre-Kindergarten Increase Maternal Labor Supply?

Abstract: We evaluate the effects of free pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) programs on the labor force participation of mothers. We use variation in Pre-K rules across all U.S. states, including income eligibility requirements in some states. To estimate the causal effects of access to Pre-K on labor supply, we exploit the panel aspect of the monthly Current Population Survey between 2002 and 2019. Specifically, we look at the change in labor market behavior of women when their child becomes age-eligible for Pre-K, controlling for individual factors. We find that access to free Pre-K programs increases overall maternal labor force participation by 2.3 percentage points. In particular, we find that mothers with the following demographic characteristics significantly increase their labor force participation with access to free Pre-K: married, college educated, white non-Hispanic, residents of metropolitan areas, and those with income either below 200 percent or above 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. Our results are robust across a series of placebo tests, alternative specifications, and sample restrictions.

Keywords: Maternal labor force participation; Child care; Universal pre-K; Gender equality; Early education;

JEL Classification: G50; H21; I31; J01; J15; J16; J18; J21;

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Bibliographic Information

Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

Part of Series: Research Working Paper

Publication Date: 2021-11-09

Number: RWP 21-11