Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Social Sources of Change in Children's Home Environments: The Effects of Parental Occupational Experiences and Family Conditions

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Social Sources of Change in Children's Home Environments: The Effects of Parental Occupational Experiences and Family Conditions

Article excerpt

This study investigates change in children's home environments as a function of change in parental occupational and family conditions. It uses data from the 1986 and I988 mother-child supplements to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) on 1,403 mothers with children aged 3 through 6 in 1986 to estimate mulivariate regression equations predicting changes in home environments as a function of intervening occupational and family changes. All analyses control for parents' background and education, maternal ethnicity, child gender, and child health.

The birth of additional children, marital termination, and mother remaining unmarried have generally negative effects on children's home environments. The effect of mothers' beginning employment varies depending on the occupational complexity of her employment: Beginning a job that is low in complexity is associated with worsening home environments. The generally negative effect of remaining unmarried also varies depending on mothers' employment status and the quality of employment, being more positive for mothers employed at higher wages and more negative for mothers who remain without employment.

Children's immediate family environments are a potent source of both cognitive stimulation and affective experience, and have important consequences both for children's later cognitive skills and academic achievement (Bradley, 1985; Bradley & Caldwell, 1987; Bradley, Caldwell, & Rock, 1988; Ketterlinus, Henderson, & Lamb, 1991; Parcel & Menaghan, 1990) and for their emotional well-being and behavior problems (Rogers, Parcel, & Menaghan, 1991). Indeed, the quality of parent-child relations and the quality of the home environment that parents provide are important means by which parents' social experiences and position affect their children's life chances (Dubow & Luster, 1990; Ketterlinus et al., 1991; Menaghan & Parcel, 1990; Rogers et al., 1991).

It is important to consider how parents' ability to provide optimal home environments may shift over time as a function of parents' changing occupational and family circumstances. Bronfenbrenner (1986) noted that studies of human development have focused on how family environments affect children, with relatively less attention to consideration of the extrafamilial influences on parents' capacity to foster their children's development. Studies in the psychological and educational literatures have emphasized the effects of stable maternal attributes on home environments, particularly mothers' educational attainment, IQ, and ethnicity, as well as family composition, particularly father presence and family size (Bradley, 1985; Bradley, Caldwell, & Rock, 1988). This emphasis implies that the quality of home environments will be relatively stable over time, with relatively disadvantaged families persisting in providing suboptimal home environments and vice versa. But evidence for this assumption of stability is meager: Bradley and Caldwell (1987) characterized the quality of home environments as only "moderately stable" through the first few years, and also reported that stability varied for differing groups of children and was lower for non-Whites and for boys.

We identify several sources of potential change in the quality of home environments, especially for very young parents and children. For many families, children's early years are punctuated by multiple changes both in their parents' work lives and in their family composition; Namboodiri (1987) referred to early adulthood as "the floundering phase of the life course." Young parents are apt to make multiple changes in employers and job demands during their early work lives, often interspersed by periods of unemployment or underemployment (see also Rindfuss, Swicegood, & Rosenfeld, 1987). The likelihood of such changes is likely to be especially great for young parents with fewer resources and less favorable attributes. …

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