Maternal employment in early childhood: The complex relationships with the developmental outcomes of young Canadian children
Authors: Teresa Katherine Lightbody
This thesis focused on the associations between maternal employment in early childhood and the developmental outcomes of infant, toddler, and preschool age children in Canada. It is well established that maternal employment in the first year is negatively associated with children’s development, particularly cognitive outcomes. However, a number of questions remain about the effects of the number of hours that mothers work, differential outcomes for boys and girls, and the contributing role of the factors in children’s family and child care contexts. Thus, I examined the nature of relationships among maternal employment in early childhood, children’s gender, family context, child care context, and young children’s development. Guided by Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model of Human Development, I conducted a secondary analysis of data from the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth using Cycles Six (2004/2005), Seven (2006/2007), and Eight (2008/2009). The method of analysis was multiple linear regression. I tested the associations between mothers’ employment in the first four years of children’s lives and the motor and social development of zero to four year old children and receptive language of four and five year old children (commonly used as an indicator of cognitive development). Further, because previous research has shown that the influence of maternal employment on children’s cognitive development varies with the specific timing of mothers’ return to work, I examined the associations between maternal employment in the first two years of children’s lives and the receptive language of children four and five years. Additionally, I ran a sub-group analysis comparing children of mothers who worked more than 20 hours a week to children of mothers who worked fewer hours. To examine the influence that child’s gender and family and child care contexts have on the relationship between maternal employment in early childhood and children’s developmental outcomes, I investigated the moderating effects of child gender, family economic well-being, mothers’ marital status, maternal education, and child care type and quality. I also analyzed the mediating effects of family functioning, depressive symptoms, and parent-child interactions on the relationship between maternal employment in early childhood and children’s developmental outcomes. With children’s motor and social development, I found that mothers who returned to work when their children were between zero to four years old had enhanced motor and social development in comparison to children of mothers who did not work during this time. However, the magnitude of the effect was relatively weak. Additionally, findings indicated that maternal employment within the first four years had stronger positive effects on the motor and social development (improved motor and social development) for female children than it did for male children. Findings showed that the only Contextual Process that played a mediating role was parent-child interactions. The enhanced motor and social development of children of mothers who worked was explained in part by more positive parentchild interactions displayed by employed mothers. Regarding receptive language, findings showed that maternal employment between zero and four years was not significantly associated with children’s receptive language. However, I found that relative to children of mothers who worked 20 hours or less per week in the first two years of their children’s lives, children of mothers who worked more than 20 hours had lower receptive language scores at four and five years of age. An additional analysis suggested that maternal employment initiated between 12 and 17 months was a sensitive period in which working more than 20 hours a week was negatively associated with children’s receptive language. The small positive associations between maternal employment in early childhood and children’s motor and social development provide some reassurance to mothers who engage in maternal employment in early childhood. That being said, my research suggests that working more than 20 hours a week in the first two years of children’s lives and even more so between 12 and 17 months of age has negative associations with children’s later receptive language. These findings could be of interest to policy analysts and government officials who create and monitor Canadian maternity and parental leave policies/programs in that they bring attention to areas (i.e., hours worked in early childhood) that policy developers may want to consider in future changes to current Canadian maternity and parental leave policies/programs.
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