Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16968 First-Year Maternal Employment and the Internalizing Problems of Young Children

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 10:30 AM
McPherson Square (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Youngjo Im, MSW, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Purpose: With increased numbers of women employed in their children's first year of life, establishing the links between first-year maternal employment and subsequent child development has received much attention recently. However, not enough is yet known about how maternal employment in the first year affects mental health outcomes. Drawing on economic and developmental theories, this study addresses three main questions. First, do causal associations exist between first-year maternal employment and internalizing problems for children at ages 3 and 5? Second, where present, do the causal links between early maternal employment and child internalizing problems vary by different levels of paternal involvement in the care of children? Finally, what are the risk factors that may instigate the development of internalizing problems for children in the first five years of life?

Methods: Sample (N=411) is drawn from the Infant Assessment Unit and Birth Cohort, which constitutes two data components of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods data collection, a longitudinal cohort study of children residing in 78 neighborhoods of Chicago, Illinois. The independent variable is caregiver's employment status, measured at child's mean age of 6 months. The outcome measure of children's internalizing problems—at mean age 3 and 5, respectively—were obtained from the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). The present study utilizes propensity score methods to draw causal inferences. A rich set of control variables are included for ordinary least squares analysis to identify risk factors at the level of family, caregiver, and the child characteristics.

Results: From the results of propensity score approach, the estimated effect of maternal employment is ä=1.29, SE=.48, t=2.41, p<.05. The results substantiate causal evidence that first-year maternal employment adversely affects young children's internalizing problems at ages 3 and 5 for all Hispanic, Black, and White children. When paternal involvement was low or nonexistent, children whose mothers worked were more likely than those whose mothers did not work to exhibit higher internalizing problems. However, high levels of paternal involvement seem to have a protective effect, with those children exhibiting slightly lower internalizing problems than children whose mothers did not work. In regards to risk factors, with family, maternal, and child characteristics controlled, higher levels of family conflict (t=2.10, p<.05), caregivers' depression (t=3.07, p<.01), alcoholic drinks before pregnancy (t=2.34, p<.05), and lower levels of education (t=-2.14, p<.05) were associated with significantly higher levels of internalizing problems in the children.

Conclusions and Implications: This study provides new evidence on the causal links between first-year maternal employment and subsequent internalizing problems for young children among low-income families. Findings suggest that when social policies and intervention programs are designed to assist low-income working families, enhancing the support available to managing first-year maternal employment may be valuable for young children's healthy development. Furthermore, results highlight the important role of environmental influences—especially maternal characteristics—in the development of mental health outcomes for young children, illuminating to the potential for early identification and prevention for later adverse outcomes, which is critical.