Parcel, 1995; Parcel and Menaghan, 1994; Parke and Buriel, 1998). Research has linked these features of work to parental cognitive skills, such as intellectual flexibility, and other personal characteristics, such as self-direction (Kohn and Schooler, 1973), and more recently to children's cognitive achievement and social behavior (Parcel and Menaghan, 1994). In one longitudinal analysis, for example, single mothers' entry into low-complexity, low-wage jobs was associated with declines in the quality of the home environment (Menaghan and Parcel, 1995). This evidence is cause for concern when juxtaposed with projections that the second highest rate of job growth over the next decade will occur in the service economy. These jobs often entail very low wages, few benefits, little autonomy, and non-standard hours (e.g., shift work). They are also disproportionately filled by less-well-educated women who now constitute a sizeable group of mothers who are entering the labor force as a result of welfare reform.

In 1994, close to half (41 percent) of children under age 5 whose mothers were employed had mothers whose principal job involved a “nonday” work shift (defined as the majority of work hours being outside the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. time period). Young children living in poverty are much more likely to have a mother who works a nonday shift (59 percent of children) compared with young children living above the poverty line (39 percent of children) (Presser and Cox, 1997). We know very little about the developmental implications of shift work. One recent study has reported an association between shift work and marital instability, with the odds of separation or divorce three to six times higher among mothers and fathers who are engaged in shift work, compared with otherwise similar parents not engaged in shift work (Presser, 2000). These findings did not appear to be attributable to spouses in more troubled marriages electing to move into shift work. This is, however, an isolated study that needs to be replicated, particularly in light of the fact that many parents are motivated to engage in shift work as a way of keeping child care within the family.

In sum, the familiar trends in parental employment can bode well or ill for young children depending on features of the work, the income it generates, the nature and structure of the job, its timing and total hours—and, as we see in Chapter 11, on the environments and relationships that children experience when they are not in the care of their parents. Of concern is the fact that the growth in parental employment appears to be in precisely those circumstances that have been found to pose risks to early development. It is thus critically important to recognize that the characteristics and experiences of working families have changed substantially over the past 25 years. It is especially troubling that young children whose parents are making considerable work efforts are more likely today than in the recent past to be living in poverty.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement