Mom's job affects her teen's well-being and education

February 10, 2005

Whether or not a single mother is employed, and how much her job pays, significantly affects her adolescent children's self-esteem, educational attainment, and the likelihood that they will remain in school. Those findings, reported in the January/February 2005 issue of the journal Child Development, have significant implications in today's post-welfare reform world, note University of Chicago researchers. Researchers Ariel Kalil, PhD and Kathleen M. Ziol-Guest, MPA, investigated the links between single mothers' employment and the well-being of their adolescent children (ages 14 to 16) over a two-year period using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a nationally representative sample that began following 12,686 youth aged 14 to 22 in 1979.

"The booming economy of the mid-to-late 1990's, along with sweeping social policy changes, helped single mothers reach unprecedented employment levels," notes Dr. Kalil, an associate professor in the university's Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies. "Economists studying the labor market experiences of single mothers in the past decade have been concerned with whether those entering the workforce will be able to earn a living wage, and with the stability of their jobs over time. Meanwhile, psychologists and sociologists have been concerned with how these women's work experiences will affect their children's well-being."

She and her co-author looked at both issues in their study, which examined the role of single mothers' employment dynamics on their adolescents' well-being.

The researchers found that teenagers of single mothers who lose their jobs and remain unemployed for two years showed declines in their sense of self efficacy and self esteem compared to teens whose mothers remain employed in jobs that paid a living wage. Additionally, adolescents whose mothers were employed in a lower-wage job were significantly more likely to have to repeat a grade compared to teens whose mothers worked in higher-wage jobs.

Finally, researchers found, those adolescents whose mothers were either persistently unemployed or who lost more than one job during the two-year period were more likely to drop out of school than adolescents whose mothers were stably employed in a higher-wage job. Changes in family income, the researchers note, do not explain these findings.

Overall, Dr. Kalil says, these findings suggest that employment instability may negatively affect adolescent's educational progress and psychological well-being. Moreover, she says, persistent employment at a lower-wage job, as well as persistent non-employment, may affect educational achievement.

"The results from this study point to the importance of not only helping single mothers keep jobs once they find them," she concluded, "but also providing the economic supports that make these jobs as much like higher-wage ones as possible."
Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 6, Issue 1, Single Mothers' Employment Dynamics and Adolescent Well-Being by Kalil A and Ziol-Guest KM (University). Copyright 2005 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

Society for Research in Child Development

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