Methods: The sample consists of children ages 0-5 years who lived with their mother and used any type of child care (N=4,547). We use the employment and child care calendar data to measure instability in work schedules and child care arrangements based on fluctuations in mothers’ daily work hours and children’s daily care hours. We calculate an instability ratio (Lambert, Fugiel, & Henly, 2014) by dividing the difference between greatest and fewest daily hours by the average daily hours. We use OLS regression models to estimate the association between work schedule instability and child care instability. Because mothers tend to make different employment and child care choices based on child age, we conduct separate analyses for infants/toddlers and preschoolers. We also consider whether the association between work schedule instability and child care instability differs by family income (<200% of the federal poverty line [FPL], 200-400% FPL, and >400% FPL).
Results: Descriptive analyses show that 40% of 0-2-year-olds and 38% of 3-5-year-olds experience unstable child care. We find substantial fluctuations in daily care hours among children with unstable child care; the average instability ratio is 0.58 and 0.69 for infants/toddlers and preschoolers, respectively. About 22% to 24% of working mothers have unstable work schedules; among them, the average instability ratio ranges from 0.46 to 0.49. Regression results show that unstable work schedules are positively associated with child care instability—the coefficient is 0.34 and 0.37 among 0-2-year-olds and 3-5-year-olds, respectively. If a child spends an average of six hours per day in child care, the instability ratio of 0.34 reflects a two-hour fluctuation. Additionally, working more hours are associated with lower child care instability. Our subgroup analyses by family income show that unstable work schedules have negative effects on child care across all income groups.
Conclusions and Implications: Findings highlight the negative consequences of parents’ work schedule instability on their young children. Regulations such as fair workweek scheduling that aim to make work schedules more stable and predictable would help reduce child care instability. Policies that increase access to affordable child care should also be considered.