Links between Maternal Employment and Child Nutrition in Rural Tanzania

Bethelhem Legesse Debela*, Esther Gehrke, Matin Qaim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Improving child nutrition and empowering women are two important and closely connected development goals. Fostering female employment is often seen as an avenue to serve both these goals, especially if it helps to empower the mothers of undernourished children. However, maternal employment can influence child nutrition through different mechanisms, and the net effect may not necessarily be positive. We develop a theoretical model to show that maternal employment can affect child nutrition through changes in income, intrahousehold bargaining power, and time available for childcare. The links are analyzed empirically using panel data from farm households in rural Tanzania. We find that the links between maternal employment and child height-for-age Z-scores (HAZ) are non-linear. Off-farm employment is negatively associated with child HAZ at low levels of labor supply. The association turns positive at higher levels of labor supply and negative again at very high levels. The associations between maternal on-farm work and child nutrition are weaker and not statistically significant. These findings can help to better design development interventions that foster synergies and avoid potential tradeoffs between female empowerment and child nutrition goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)812-830
JournalAmerican Journal of Agricultural Economics
Issue number3
Early online date23 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Child nutrition
  • female employment
  • stunting
  • Tanzania
  • women's empowerment


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