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There is evidence of race differences in the effect of early maternal employment on children’s developmental outcomes, with African American children often experiencing fewer negative consequences than White children (Berger, et al., 2008). While compelling, it is still unclear why these race differences exist because few studies have examined whether there are race differences in other maternal, household, and employment characteristics that might explain employment effects on development. Further, race differences in early maternal employment have not been studied in a rural sample where racial disparities in employment opportunities for African American mothers are prevalent (Dill, 1998; McLoyd & Enchautegui-de-Jesus, 2005).
The current study seeks to describe race differences in the maternal, household, and employment characteristics of mothers who return to work within the first year of her child’s life. Primary caregivers were interviewed about their demographics, household characteristics, and employment status when their baby was 2, 6, and 15-months of age. Children whose mothers were reported as the main primary caregiver at each time point were included in analyses (N = 1,240), 41% of whom were African American and 59% of whom were White. Mothers were considered employed if she reported working an average of 5 or more hours per week at each time point. Of the 808 mothers who were employed by 15-months, 27% were African American and 39% were White. The marital status of all mothers was similar. Of employed mothers, 66% of White mothers and 31% of African American mothers were married. Of mothers who were not employed, 62% of White mothers and 27% of African American mothers were married.
An analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was conducted for each continuous variable to examine the race x employment interactions. Analyses controlled for mother’s age and education level, with the exception of models examining these variables. Descriptive statistics by group can be found in Table 1. There was a significant interaction for maternal education, F(4, 1234) = 4.99, MSE = 35.19, p = .026, income, F(5, 1053) = 6.29, MSE = 11.36, p = .012, and household size, F(5, 1234) = 4.94, MSE = 9.48, p = .026. Most notably, employed African American mothers had a lower average income-to-needs ratio (M = 1.43, SD = 1.05) than unemployed White mothers (M = 1.63, SD = 1.03).
Figure 1 shows the relationship between the child and his or her other primary caregiver by employment group and race. The biological father was most commonly the other primary caregiver in all groups except unemployed African American mothers who most commonly designated a grandparent as the child’s other primary caregiver. Race x maternal employment differences in the other primary caregivers’ education and work hours were also examined, but no significant interactions were found.
Further analyses will be conducted for the poster, but these preliminary results suggest that there are employment status and race differences in demographic and household characteristics that may be unique to the rural context and have the potential to play a role in developmental processes.