Abstract: Mediating Role of Paternal Involvement on the Association between Maternal Employment and Children's Behavioral and Cognitive Outcomes (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Mediating Role of Paternal Involvement on the Association between Maternal Employment and Children's Behavioral and Cognitive Outcomes

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Desert Sky, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Youngjo Im, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Chicago State University, Chicago, IL
Sydney Hans, Ph.D., Professor, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background: Although a large literature examines the effect of maternal employment on child development, few studies examined the mechanisms through which maternal employment influence child outcomes. Scholars have postulated that parental time represents a main causal mechanism linking maternal employment to child outcomes. Its underlying assumptions speculate that maternal employment negatively affects children because it reduces time spent with mothers, and fathers may partially offset the loss of maternal time by increasing their involvement with children. In this study, we consider two questions: (1) does maternal employment affect paternal involvement? If so, (2) do changes in paternal involvement affect child outcomes? Despite the rich knowledge that the existing maternal employment studies offer, our understanding of the mediating role of paternal involvement is still limited. We fill this gap.

Methods: We use data (N=711) from the Birth cohort of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN). Data were collected at three time points when children were 6-month old, and 3- and 5-year old (53% Hispanic, 27% black, 19% white, and 4% others). Our outcome measures are children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior problems (CBCL) and cognitive scores (Forward Memory Instrument) at age 5, respectively. Two paternal involvement constructs are: (1) amounts of time spent with a father and (2) frequency of activities with a father. We use an extensive set of covariates to adjust for selectin bias in estimating the mediating effect of paternal involvement. Our analytic approach includes two weighting adjustment methods: Inverse-Probability-of-Treatment Weighting (IPTW) and Ratio-of-Mediator-Probability Weighting (RMPW). These are advanced propensity score based approaches.

Results: Using weighting adjustment methods, our analyses yield convincing evidence that maternal employment induces fathers’ involvement, and the increased fathers’ frequency of activities diminished children’s internalizing behavior problems (γ2 = -1.50, se = .52, Wald χ2 = 8.37, p < .01) and externalizing behavior problems (γ2 = -1.20, se = .56, Wald χ2 = 12.70, p < .001). Similarly, the increased amounts of time fathers spent with children, which were induced by mothers’ employment, alleviated children’s internalizing problems (γ2 = -1.74, se = .51, Wald χ2 = 11.46, p < .01) and externalizing problems (γ2 = -1.19, se = .60, Wald χ2 = 3.89, p < .05). Contrary to our expectation, we find no significant mediating effect of paternal involvement between maternal employment and children’s cognitive outcome.

Conclusions: Our results provide the first empirical evidence that fathers compensate for maternal employment by increasing their involvement with children. We have seen substantial social policy and program efforts geared at increasing fathers’ involvement in recent years. Believing that responsible fatherhood is a key factor in child development, social policy measures need to be aimed not only at increasing the financial responsibility of fathers but also at strengthening their parenting role and involvement with children. All types of fathers (e.g., nonresidential fathers, social fathers) in families can be important to children as we recognize the growing complexity of family structures. Our findings may have important implications for forming more effective policies in support of working families.