Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Maternal Employment, Nonparental Care, Mother-Child Interactions, and Child Outcomes during Preschool Years

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Maternal Employment, Nonparental Care, Mother-Child Interactions, and Child Outcomes during Preschool Years

Article excerpt

This study examines the relationships between maternal employment, nonparental care, mother-child interactions, and preschoolers' outcomes. Data from the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (N = 1,248) show that maternal employment during the previous year, especially full-time employment, was related to care by nonrelatives, longer hours in school settings, fewer positive mother-child interactions, and less reading with parents at ages 2 and 4. Controlling for these mediators, maternal employment was related to children's lower hyperactivity, more prosocial behavior, and less anxiety at age 4, although little relationship was found at age 2. The results indicate that preschoolers may benefit from maternal employment, but benefits may be offset by long hours of nonparental care and fewer positive mother-child interactions.

Key Words: child-care arrangements, child development, early childhood, maternal employment, parenting.

During the past few decades, labor force participation among mothers with preschool children increased dramatically in North America. In 1975, only 39% of U.S. mothers with children younger than 6 years were employed. By 1998, the figure increased to 65%, although it has fallen slightly in recent years to 62% in 2004 (Hayghe, 1997; U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005). Canadian mothers have also shown a rapid movement into the labor force to date: Between 1976 and 1999, the labor force participation rate among Canadian mothers with children aged 3-5 increased from 37% to 66% (Statistics Canada, 2000), and in 2003, 75% of mothers whose youngest child was aged 3 to 5 were in the labor force (Friendly & Beach, 2005).

The increase in employment among mothers with preschool children has raised questions among researchers and policy makers about its effects on children's development. Few U.S. studies, however, have found significant differences between preschool children with currently employed mothers and with homemaker mothers in their socioemotional adjustments (Crockenberg & Litman, 1991; Gottfried, Gottfried, & Bathurst, 1988; Han, Waldfogel, & Brooks-Gunn, 2001 ; Schachter, 1981 ) and cognitive development (Han et al., 2001; Waldfogel, Han, & Brooks-Gunn, 2002). Reviewing recent studies that focused on the effects of early maternal employment on child outcomes, Waldfogel (2002) concluded that maternal employment during preschool years had no adverse effects on child outcomes except when it began in the first year of the child's life. Maternal employment begun after the first year shows no effects on socioemotional adjustments (Baydar & Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Han et al.), and it shows positive effects on cognitive development for White children (Han et al.) and for girls (Desai, Chase-Lansdale, & Michael, 1989) measured at age 4 or in early elementary school years. Evidence from Canadian studies is inconclusive. Miller, Jenkins, and Keating (2002) found that children aged 2-3 with full-time employed mothers showed better socioemotional adjustment than their counterparts with homemaker mothers. In contrast, Lefebvre and Merrigan (1998) found that 4-year-old children with mothers who were employed more than 26 weeks in the previous year showed higher levels of emotional disorder than those with mothers who stayed at home. Some found no relationship between current maternal employment and 4-year-old children's vocabulary skills (Gagné, 2003; Lefebvre & Merrigan, 1998), whereas one study showed that 4-year-old children with employed mothers were more likely to have low vocabulary skills than their counterparts with homemaker mothers (Lefebvre & Merrigan, 2002).

These empirical findings are somewhat puzzling, given the common beliefs about the importance of mothers' intensive investment in childrearing (e.g., Hays, 1996). One question rarely asked is why there is so little difference in child outcomes by mothers' employment status. …

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