K. Alison Clarke-Stewart
Virginia D. Allhusen
University of California
The past quarter century has seen dramatic changes in family life in the United States. One of the most notable of these changes is the trend toward greater labor force participation by mothers, coupled with greater involvement of caregivers other than parents in the care of young children. In 1975, just over one third of married women with children under the age of 6 years were employed; by 1998, the rate of employment had risen to approximately two thirds (U. S. Bureau of the Census, 1999). In 1975, approximately 4 million American children under the age of 6 years were cared for by someone other than their mothers for a significant portion of each week; today, more than 10 million young children are in childcare of some type (U. S. Bureau of the Census, 1997). Some families have relatives (grandparents, aunts, older siblings) available to care for young children while the mother works. The trend observed in all Western societies toward smaller, more geographically spread out families, however, has clearly increased parents' need to find childcare outside the family.
The issue of the effects of nonparental care, often even nonfamilial care, on young children's social and cognitive development has raised many questions among child development researchers. What is the significance of children's daily separations from their mothers? What is the nature of the attention children receive from their daycare providers? What are the effects of having multiple caregivers? What does it mean if these caregivers are unrelated to the family and if their styles of interacting with the child are different from the parents' and from each other's? Are children who spend several hours each day with other children more dependent on their peers? Are they more aggressive with other children? Can children in daycare facilities with large groups of children and few caregivers be given enough stimulation to ensure their intellectual growth? Are daycare providers as committed as parents to fostering children's social and intellectual development? Questions such as these have engendered research and controversy among developmental scientists and others.