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Journal Issue: Welfare to Work Volume 7 Number 1 Spring 1997

When Low-Income Mothers Go to Work: Implications for Children
Martha J. Zaslow Carol A. Emig


When mothers who have depended on welfare become employed, the change affects not only welfare budgets and the women themselves, but the daily lives of the children who make up two-thirds of the welfare population. This article is the first of a set of three that consider what we know—and do not know—about the likely effects that a mother's moving from welfare to work will have on her children.

This article gives an overview of research studies conducted from the late 1960s to the present that consider how maternal employment affects children in low-income families. The efforts of these families to juggle working and child rearing have received far less attention than those of middle-class or professional families. Most studies that do focus on low-income groups indicate that children are seldom harmed when their mothers work, and many have improved outcomes, especially in terms of cognitive development. The authors caution, however, that all the working mothers studied thus far entered employment voluntarily, so their experiences may be more favorable than the experiences of families who may be forced off welfare and into jobs. Child outcome research that focuses directly on the families who will be affected by welfare reform is currently unavailable.

The two subsequent articles (by Parcel and Menaghan and by Moore and Driscoll) continue with the themes raised in this overview and examine in depth specific questions policymakers should ask as they anticipate the effects that moving mothers into low-wage jobs may have on the development of children: How does a parent's going to work outside the home affect family life? And how do children who were once supported by public assistance fare after their mothers become employed?