Academic journal article Social Work Research

Single Mothers' Self-Efficacy, Parenting in the Home Environment, and Children's Development in a Two-Wave Study

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Single Mothers' Self-Efficacy, Parenting in the Home Environment, and Children's Development in a Two-Wave Study

Article excerpt

Using data from a sample of 178 single black mothers and their young children who were ages three to five at time 1 and ages five to eight at time 2, this study examined the links between and among low-wage employment, mothers' self-efficacy beliefs, depressive symptoms, and a constellation of parenting behaviors in the preschool years to children's cognitive and behavioral functioning in early elementary school years. In general, the results supported a model in which the influence of mothers' employment on maternal parenting and child outcomes was largely indirect and mediated by perceived self-efficacy. Employment was related directly to higher self-efficacy, which in turn was associated with decreased depressive symptoms. Depressive symptoms were associated with the quality of the mother-nonresident father relationship and the latter with the frequency of nonresident fathers' contacts with their children. More contact between nonresident fathers and their children predicted more adequate maternal parenting, which in turn was associated directly with the children's subsequent behavioral and cognitive functioning in early elementary school. The results are discussed in the context of social cognitive theory and the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.

KEY WORDS: children's development; employment; mothers; parenting; psychological well-being; welfare reform


Social cognitive theory posits that people are self-organizing, proactive, and self-regulatory agents in the production of their desired outcomes (Bandura, 1999, 2001). Perceived self-efficacy--the belief that one has the power to produce effects by one's actions--influences aspirations and the strength of commitments to them, level of perseverance in the face of difficulties and setbacks, and vulnerability to stress and depression (Bandura, 1997).

Although there is a rapidly growing body of research on the role of perceived self-efficacy in parenting and on the negative influence of economic hardship on efficacious parenting (Ardelt & Eccles, 2001; Elder, Eccles, Ardelt, & Lord, 1995; Gross, Conrach, Fogg, & Wothke, 1994; Jackson, 2000; Jackson & Huang, 2000), little is known about the mediational roles that maternal self-efficacy beliefs and parenting in the home environment play in linking low-wage employment among single black mothers with preschoolers to their children's behavioral and cognitive development.


With the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) (P.L. 104-193), which places strict time limits on welfare receipt and mandates that low-income recipients work (even mothers with very young children, low skills, and low wages), many single mothers have left welfare for work but still do not earn enough to raise their families out of poverty (Ellwood, 2000).

Income plays an especially important role in family life, because the resources necessary for sustaining the health and well-being of family members and furthering the development of children are dependent on the family's financial resources (Bronfenbrenner, 1988). In the study discussed here, we focused on single black mothers because they are disproportionately represented among the very poor and the welfare-dependent population (Duncan, 1991; Wilson, 1987, 1996).

Some argue that children develop more optimally when there is both a primary caregiver (most often the mother) who is committed to the well-being of the children and another adult (most often the father) who gives support to the primary caregiver (see, for example, Bronfenbrenner, 1986). Little is known about how single black mothers and nonresident black fathers co-parent in poor and near-poor black families and how their separate (but often conjoint) parenting behaviors influence the development of young black children, because most of the research on nonresident fathers' contacts with their children is based on samples of mostly middle-class, divorced, white fathers (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999; Seltzer, 1991; Shapiro & Lambert, 1999). …

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