, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 747–772 | Cite as

Employment Patterns of Less-Skilled Workers: Links to Children’s Behavior and Academic Progress

  • Rucker C. JohnsonEmail author
  • Ariel Kalil
  • Rachel E. Dunifon


Using data from five waves of the Women’s Employment Survey (WES; 1997–2003), we examine the links between low-income mothers’ employment patterns and the emotional behavior and academic progress of their children. We find robust and substantively important linkages between several different dimensions of mothers’ employment experiences and child outcomes. The pattern of results is similar across empirical approaches—including ordinary least squares and child fixed-effect models, with and without an extensive set of controls. Children exhibit fewer behavior problems when mothers work and experience job stability (relative to children whose mothers do not work). In contrast, maternal work accompanied by job instability is associated with significantly higher child behavior problems (relative to employment in a stable job). Children whose mothers work full-time and/or have fluctuating work schedules also exhibit significantly higher levels of behavior problems. However, full-time work has negative consequences for children only when it is in jobs that do not require cognitive skills. Such negative consequences are completely offset when this work experience is in jobs that require the cognitive skills that lead to higher wage growth prospects. Finally, fluctuating work schedules and full-time work in non-cognitively demanding jobs are each strongly associated with the probability that the child will repeat a grade or be placed in special education.


Maternal employment Welfare Child development 



Support for this project was provided by the W.E. Upjohn Institute under Grant #2005-98. We also thank the research staff at the University of Michigan's Poverty Research and Training Center, particularly Margaret Hudson, Sarah Marsh, and Andreas Pape. Patrick Wightman provided excellent research assistance. This research was also supported in part by grants from the Annie E. Casey, Charles Stewart Mott, Joyce, and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundations; the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the National Institute of Mental Health (R24-MH51363); the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (P50-HD38986); and the University of Michigan Office of the Vice-President for Research, by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to Kalil (F32 HD08145-01) and Dunifon (F32 HD08627-01), and by a grant from the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center at Cornell University. Special thanks are due to survey manager Bruce Medbery, Eva Leissou, and the interviewing staff.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rucker C. Johnson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ariel Kalil
    • 2
  • Rachel E. Dunifon
    • 3
  1. 1.Goldman School of Public PolicyUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Harris School of Public Policy StudiesUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Policy and ManagementCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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