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Within-Family Associations between Maternal Employment and Children’s Early Care and Education Experiences

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Evidence suggests that increasing the quality of children’s early care and education (ECE) experiences is one of the key mechanisms through which policy can support children’s early development (Barnett, 1995; McCartney et al., 2007; Schweinhart et al., 2005). Yet, many children are in multiple concurrent ECE arrangements or low quality ECE settings, both of which have been found to have negative implications for children’s short- and long-term development (e.g. Morrissey, 2009; Vandell et al., 2010). Policy innovations have been made at multiple layers of the ECE sphere, including efforts to increase access through publicly funded programs and improve quality through Quality Rating Improvement Systems. A less explored policy lever through which to improve children’s access to higher quality ECE experiences is employment policy. For many families, the selection of ECE for their children hinges on mothers’ employment characteristics, such as maternal work hours, income, and schedule.

The goal of this study was to assess how shifts in maternal employment characteristics
were associated with changes in children’s ECE experiences. While improvements in employment characteristics may prompt beneficial adjustments to ECE arrangements, they may also have little effect given that many factors have been found to influence ECE selection, including family preferences and cultural norms (Coley et al., 2014). If changes in maternal employment characteristics shift children into higher quality ECE experiences, then employment policy may be considered another method by which policy can enhance children’s development through their ECE experiences.

Data were drawn from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a prospective longitudinal study following children born in 1991 in 10 urban and rural sites in the U.S. The analytic sample consisted of children whose mothers were consistently employed over early childhood (n = 618). Measures of maternal employment and children’s ECE were collected at five time-points: 6, 15, 24, 36, and 54 months. At these time-points, mothers reported their current weekly hours employed, hourly wages, and nonstandard scheduled work. ECE quality was assessed with two measures: (1) the number of current, non-parental ECE arrangements and (2) direct observations of quality using the Observational Record of the Caregiving Environment (ORCE). All models controlled for a host of selection characteristics of children and mothers.

Multilevel models assessing within-family effects found that increases in maternal work hours and decreases in maternal nonstandard work over early childhood were associated with improved ECE quality. Increases in maternal work income was linked with decreases in the number of ECE arrangements while increases in work hours were associated with increases in the number of arrangements. Changes in maternal work income were not associated with changes in quality nor were changes in nonstandard work associated with changes in the number of ECE arrangements. Results suggest that policies which seek to increase mothers’ employment income and decrease nonstandard scheduled work may benefit children indirectly through improved ECE quality and fewer ECE arrangements. Increasing mothers’ work hours, however, has mixed implications of potentially improving children’s ECE quality but also raising the likelihood of multiple ECE arrangements.

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