Here is something else from Canada: commentary by Andrea Mrozek of the Institute of Marriage and Family on recent childcare research which purports to show no negative overall effects of mothers working outside the home during the first year of life.

In response to local columns attempting to claim the research as proof positive that early childcare does not harm children, Mrozek explains that the picture is more complex than the authors’ spin suggests:

Earlier research, using the same detailed dataset from the American NICHD Study of Early Child Care, spoke to high quality care having positive outcomes for some children, particularly with regards to improvements in math and vocabulary. Some of the same research also said that longer amounts of time spent in care increased problem behaviours, like aggression. (Belsky, J., Vandell, D., Burchinal, M., Clarke-Stewart, K. A., McCartney, K., Owen, M., et al, 2007)

The very recent August 2010 First-year maternal employment and child development in the first 7 years actually says something similar. [But] … the (lengthy) verbiage around the research takes a different tone and does conclude in the abstract that the results of mothers of infants working outside the home are completely neutral. “Our SEM results indicate that, on average, the associations between 1st-year maternal employment and later cognitive, social, and emotional outcomes are neutral,” write the authors, “because negative effects, where present, are offset by positive effects.” (Brooks-Gunn, J., Han, W., & Waldfogel, J. August, 2010)

It turns out that effects vary according to whether the child is a boy or a girl, the child’s personality, the type of job a woman has and her income.

Buried on page 63 lies an interesting section about child behaviours after the mother works full-time outside the home in the first year of life, together with consideration for the timing of the start of work, be it at 3, 6 or 9 months. And here, the outcomes are not perfectly rosy. “At age 4.5, children whose mothers had worked FT [full-time] by 3 months, 6 months, or 9 months have significantly more externalizing behaviour problems than children whose mothers did not work in the 1st year as rated by their caregivers,” the authors write. They go on: “A similar pattern is seen at first grade, where children whose mothers worked FT by 3 or 6 months have significantly more externalizing behaviour problems than children whose mothers did not work in the 1st year as reported by their teachers but not by their mothers.”

In short, the problem behaviours mentioned in prior research appear to remain. This is not quite the get out of jail free card that some media commentators were hoping for. Neither is there explanation for this seemingly contradictory result to the neutral conclusions of the abstract.

Read her whole article at the IMFC website.


Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet