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Wind of Change? Cultural Determinants of Maternal Labor Supply – Evidence from the German Reunification

  • Series
  • Speaker(s)
    Uta Schoenberg (University College London, United Kingdom)
  • Field
    Empirical Microeconomics
  • Location
  • Date and time

    March 08, 2021
    12:00 - 13:00

Uta Schönberg is one of the top applied micro-economist working on labour market issues in Europe. She has published in QJE, JPE, AER, REStud. She is also joint managing editor of the latter.


In this paper, we exploit the unique setting of the German reunification to investigate to what extent the culture a woman grows up in and the culture of her current social environment shape her labor supply decisions after childbirth. As a state socialist country, East Germany strongly encouraged mothers to participate in the labor market full-time, whereas West Germany propagated a more traditional male breadwinner-model. After reunification, these two cultures clashed, with increased social interactions between East and West Germans through migration and commuting. Comparing East and West German mothers at both sides of the inner German border within the same commuting zone, we first illustrate that culture matters: East German mothers return to work faster and work longer hours than West German mothers. Second, exploiting migration across the former inner-German border, we document a strong asymmetry in the persistence of childhood culture: Whereas East German migrants return to work earlier and work longer hours than their West German colleagues even after longer exposure to the more traditional West German culture, West German migrants adjust their post-birth labor supply behavior nearly fully to that of their East German colleagues. Third, we show that even a partial exposure to East German colleagues induces West German “native” mothers to speed up their return to work after childbirth, demonstrating that migration might be a catalyst for cultural change, provided that the migration shock is large enough

Joint with: Barbara Boelmann and Anna Rautewith

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