Employment, of course, can take many different forms. Some parents work full-time, full-year in low-wage jobs that fail to lift their families out of poverty. In other cases, work is intermittent, or multiple low-wage jobs are held by multiple family members, including older children, who all contribute to family income. As we discuss in the chapter on child care, it is not unusual for parents to organize their work hours so that they can keep child care within the family, particularly during infancy. Even among mothers who have received public assistance, a recent analysis found that over a 24-month period, 43 percent either combined work and welfare receipt or cycled between the two, and another 23 percent were not employed but spent substantial time looking for work (Spalter-Roth et al., 1995).

What do employment trends mean for young children? Research on maternal employment has been based primarily on middle-income families (Gottfried and Gottfried, 1988; Hoffman, 1989) and has been inconclusive. Most of the evidence indicates that children are either positively affected or unaffected by growing up in a family with an employed mother. Evidence is accumulating,2 however, that suggests that maternal employment in the child's first year, especially if mothers work long hours, can indeed be a negative factor for infant development (Baydar and Brooks-Gunn, 1991; Belsky and Eggebeen, 1991; Ruhm, 2000; Desai et al., 1989; Vandell and Corasaniti, 1988; Han et al., 2000; Waldfogel et al., 2000). Efforts to determine which infants are most affected have been inconclusive, but the negative findings emerge more often for those in two-parent and middleincome families than for those with fewer family resources. Interestingly, one report (Ruhm, 2000) hinted at similar effects of paternal and maternal employment, suggesting the importance of time investments by fathers as well as by mothers. How strong these negative effects are can, of course, be affected by the quality of the alternative care that the child experiences in the mother's absence (see next chapter)

Research on the children of working-poor parents is just beginning to emerge, despite the fact that this is one of the fastest growing groups of children in the United States. In 1996, about 5 million children lived in a working-poor family, defined as a family with an income below the poverty line and two parents who work the equivalent of a full-time job or a single

2  

Much of the evidence is based on analyses of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) The NLSY is a national sample of 12,686 youth who were 14 to 22 years of age when first interviewed in 1979. Beginning in 1986 and every 2 years since, developmental measures were administered to children of civilian mothers in the NLSY (4,971 children of 2,922 mothers in 1986). See Chase-Lansdale et al. (1991) for a fuller description. The survey does not include measures of child care quality.



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