Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Do Children's Behavior Problems Limit Poor Women's Labor Market Success?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Do Children's Behavior Problems Limit Poor Women's Labor Market Success?

Article excerpt

Economically disadvantaged mothers face numerous barriers to stable, quality employment opportunities. One barrier that has received limited attention in previous research is having a child with significant psychological or behavioral problems. Using a representative sample of low-income mothers and early adolescent children from the Three-City Study (N = 717), we assessed whether adolescents' behavior problems prospectively predicted mothers' employment status, consistency, and quality. Lagged random-effects regression models suggested that adolescents' psychological distress and delinquency inhibited the labor market success of disadvantaged mothers, although school problems were related to greater work effort among mothers. Links between labor market success and both psychological distress and delinquency differed across mothers with male and female adolescents.

Key Words: barriers to employment, behavior problems, maternal employment, welfare reform.

Economically and socially disadvantaged parents experience numerous barriers to finding and maintaining stable, high-quality, and well-paid employment in today's competitive labor market. These barriers include both personal factors, such as low education and skills, substance use, domestic violence, and mental health problems, and family-related factors, such as childrearing responsibilities and a lack of reliable child care (Olson & Pavetti, 1996). Such factors may inhibit women's entry into jobs, decrease the consistency of their work effort, and reduce the stability of their job holding. Employment barriers also may make it difficult for women to improve the quality of their jobs, wage rates, and access to benefits. In the past decade, several studies have assessed such barriers by delineating the challenges low-income women face in the labor market. Even with the push of welfare reform and the pull of a strong economy and work incentives, research has found that barriers may impede low-income women's work success (e.g., Bernheimer, Weisner, & Lowe, 2003; Danziger, Kali!, & Anderson, 2000; Dworsky & Courtney, 2007). However, limited attention has been paid to whether children's behaviors and characteristics affect mothers' employment. On the basis of transactional and family systems theories, we hypothesize that high levels of psychological or behavior problems among children, particularly common during the early adolescent years, may be barriers to mothers' success in the labor market.

POTENTIAL MECHANISMS LINKING CHILD BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS AND MATERNAL EMPLOYMENT

Although previous studies have delineated a host of barriers to the employment success of disadvantaged mothers, few studies have investigated possible barriers associated with the psychosocial functioning of children and related caregiving demands. Olson and Pavetti (1996) identified children's health or behavioral problems as one of the eight primary barriers that could impede poor women's success in the labor market in the face of welfare reform. Previously, scholars highlighted the challenging balance of caregiving and employment for mothers of infants and young children (e.g., Acs & Loprest, 1999; Corman, Noonan, & Reichrnan, 2005). Here, we draw attention to the special caregiving demands of children with psychological or behavior problems as those children transition into adolescence. Early adolescence brings a broad range of shifts in physical, cognitive, and social growth and development (Lemer & Steinberg, 2004). These shifts are associated with increased caregiving demands and parent-child conflicts as families renegotiate roles and adjust to changing skills, behaviors, and expectations (Collins & Laursen, 2004). This developmental transition is often associated with the emergence or intensification of challenging child behaviors, such as psychological distress and mental health problems (e.g., depressive symptomatology), problems in school (e. …

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