Social Policy & Childhood

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Social Policy can influence Childhood

Social Policy can influence Childhood


Early maternal employment has the effect of removing the mother from the home for a specified amount of time each week but also has other effects on the characteristics and behaviour of the family, not least of which may be the additional income from the mother's earnings. It has frequently been reasoned that maternal employment lowers the mother's input into childrearing, but different authors call attention to different explanations for this effect (Singer, Fuller, Keiley, et al, 1998). The most uncomplicated hypothesis is that maternal employment diminishes a mother's input by reducing the amount of time that is actually spent with the child. Although some evidence indicates that this is accurate, it also suggests that the magnitude of the effect may be overestimated, primarily if the focus is on the time investment alone, rather than total maternal investments.

Social Policy can influence Childhood

If it is supposed that any consequence of early maternal employment is a result of the loss of the distinctive type of maternal care provided then the effect for individual children will likely differ with the mother's level of skill. Specifically, if children receive greater stimulation from more cognitively skilled mothers, the children of the more able may suffer more severe negative effects because they experience a greater loss when their mothers redirect their time to paid work. However, an alternative hypothesis may be that the more cognitively skilled mothers may provide better quality interactions when they are home, compensating for their time away. Han, Waldfogel & Brooks-Gunn (2001) interrelated first year maternal employment with various cognitive scores of the mothers. They concluded that first year maternal employment has considerably detrimental effects for moderate to highly skilled mothers but found no evidence of any negative effects among the lower skilled quartile. In another study, Hill (2001) did not concentrate on the issue of incongruent effects by cognitive skill directly but some consideration may be warranted given a discovery of asymmetric treatment effects.

Early maternal employment is associated with mothers who are better educated than mothers who do not work at all in the first three years of their child's life (Doherty, Lero, Goelman, et al, 2000). According to Drolet, (2002), the children of these mothers would have better outcomes if their mothers were to delay work or work fewer hours (the effect of early fulltime employment for this subgroup is negative.) However, she concludes, the less skilled mothers who do not work in the first three years would not encounter any negative effects of switching to first year fulltime employment. These results tentatively suggest that the adverse effects of early maternal employment may be partially dependent on the skill level of the mother.

Another hypothesis is that mothers in the workforce are less likely to breastfeed and that formula feeding has negative effects on children. Noble (1999) evaluated the research on the effects of early maternal employment on breastfeeding and concluded that postpartum employment has little effect on the initiation of ...
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