December 3rd, 2019
"Wind of Change? Cultural Determinants of Maternal Labor Supply"
Does the culture a woman grows up in influence her labor market 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, we first show that East German mothers still return to work faster 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 East German mothers appear hardly affected by exposure to the more conservative West German culture, 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. Examining potential channels, we find that part of this cultural shift can be explained by learning. We document that even sudden exposure to East German colleagues affects post-birth labor supply of West German women back in their own culture, demonstrating that migration might be a catalyst for cultural change.