New Research Finds Maternal Employment Not Harmful to Infant Development

Aug 05, 2010

By Teresa Lim

New research findings reaffirm the critical role that high-quality child care can play in promoting the healthy growth and development of infants while allowing mothers to seek or maintain jobs.This is particularly important for mothers who need to work to support their families.

Researchers at Columbia University recently released new findings indicating that maternal employment does not necessarily have negative impacts on infant development. Additional factors, such as use of high-quality child care, must also be taken into account. The latest findings are part of a comprehensive study, First-Year Maternal Employment and Child Development in the First 7 Years, tracking more than 1,000 children from birth through first grade using data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development.  A discussion of the findings is available in the latest edition of Monographs published by the Society for Research in Child Development. The findings also are highlighted in a recent article by the Washington Post

In this newest development, researchers found that infants raised by full-time working mothers in the first year of life scored slightly lower on cognitive tests than infants raised by stay-at-home mothers. However, these effects were "neutralized" by advantages held by working mothers. Among the advantages, working mothers had higher incomes and were more likely to seek high-quality child care. These new findings counter previous evidence released by the same team of researchers that suggested that maternal employment adversely affected early childhood development. Part-time employment and full-time employment after the first year of an infant's life were also found not to have harmful effects.

High-quality care for infants, however, is expensive and can take up a significant portion of a family's budget. According to new data by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, full-time infant care in a center ranged from more than $4,000 to more than $18,000 a year in 2009. In all states, the average cost of full-time, center-based care for infants surpassed the average amount that families spent annually on food, while in about half of states the cost of infant care exceeded the amount that families paid in rent. To address this challenge, states can implement a variety of policies, such as contracting directly with providers, to promote access to affordable, high-quality care for infants and toddlers. States can also work to ensure that parents have the information they need on infant/toddler care to make informed choices about their child care arrangements.

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