Journal Issue: Welfare to Work Volume 7 Number 1 Spring 1997
The discussion of the study's results below first reports the simple link between maternal employment and child outcomes without considering the background factors described above, then gives the more statistically appropriate estimate of the effects of maternal employment on children once other factors are taken into account. Both sets of effects are summarized in Table 2.Simple Effects of Maternal Employment
When one examines only the simple effects—the extent to which maternal employment at varying wage levels is linked with outcomes for children, without controlling for other factors—the results suggest that maternal employment is associated with more positive child outcomes, but only when wages exceed $5.00 per hour. For some outcomes, benefits appear only at wages of $7.50 or better. For instance, children whose mothers earned more than $7.50 per hour had fewer behavioral problems than did the children of mothers who did not work or who earned lower wages. Similarly, reading recognition, reading comprehension, and math scores were higher for children of mothers who worked and earned more than the lowest wages. Reading recognition and math scores were significantly higher even at wages of more than $5.00, while reading comprehension scores rose only for children whose mothers earned above $7.50 per hour.
But maternal employment and wages are far from the only factors that influence children's behavior and achievement, of course. Background factors significantly influence child development and may also be related to mothers' work status and earnings. As mentioned above, these factors include the following: the child's age, birth order, gender, and race; the mother's education, cognitive attainment, attitudes about gender roles, and reliance on welfare; and the family's history of employment or AFDC use and household income. Clearly, their impact must be considered when one attempts to measure the effects of employment on children.Accounting for Background Factors
The findings change substantially when the statistical analysis takes into account background factors that are linked with both maternal employment and child development. This analysis suggests that the mother's work status and wages are not a dominant influence on her children. The overall pattern of results suggests that maternal employment has not harmed children in this sample of low-income families with some history of single parenthood and AFDC receipt.
Differing patterns link maternal employment to the four child outcomes studied, as Table 2 shows. Overall, children whose mothers fell into the highest wage category had fewer behavioral problems than other children. Separate analyses of boys and girls revealed that daughters of employed mothers who earned more than $5.00 per hour had fewer problems than girls whose mothers did not work or worked and earned less than this amount. No clear pattern of differences appeared among the boys.
For cognitive outcomes, the pattern of findings is more varied but again provides little evidence of harmful effects. There is no indication that mothers' employment status affects children's reading scores, after taking into account the influence of such factors as the child's gender and the mother's education and problem-solving ability. For the math outcomes, the pattern differed for boys and girls. While maternal employment is related to lower math scores for boys, especially at the lowest wage levels, girls with mothers in the highest wage category did better on the math achievement test.
To summarize, when background factors are taken into account, maternal employment is still associated with lower levels of behavioral problems for girls and for all children whose mothers earn more than $7.50 per hour. The only clear effect of maternal employment on cognitive outcomes was found for math scores; girls with working mothers had higher scores while comparable boys scored lower. Thus, no overall pattern of positive or negative effects was found.