Category Archives: Work and Family

The Implications of Parents’ Employment for their Children

Parent’s (and especially mother’s) work is not always beneficial for their children.

In the Future of Children, Carolyn J. Heinrich explains that working parents can be positive role models for their children, and the income they earn can improve their children’s lives. However, work can impair the developing bond between parents and young children (especially when parents work long hours or evening and night shifts); and stress that parents bring home can have a negative effect on parenting and the quality of the home environment, and thereby induce stress into children’s lives.

It seems that the balance between work and family ought to be of utmost concern to policy makers, especially in relation to low-income parents who are most likely to work in stressful jobs with few or no benefits, but what is the solution?

Heinrich points to two-generation interventions as a possibility to maximize the benefits and minimize the detriments of parents’ work. She mentions the Career Advance program, which was recently highlighted by National Public Radio, as an example of a two-generation intervention that targets parents with children in Head Start for workforce development services. This and similar programs focus on high-quality childhood education, job training that helps parents upgrade their workforce skills as well as family and peer support services. She explains that if these programs help parents secure better jobs that improve how they feel about their work and the role models and encouragement they offer to their children, then their children may reap benefits beyond those from just the education and stronger financial supports families realize from program participation.

To learn more about how two-generation programs can help families, see the latest issue of Future of Children, Helping Parents, Helping Children: Two-Generation Mechanisms.

Caregivers and Baby Boomers

According to a new report by the AARP Public Policy Institute, in 2010, each person aged 80 or older had more than 7 potential family caregivers aged 45-64. However, as the oldest baby boomers begin to retire, America is entering a period of transition in which this ratio will decrease sharply, hitting 4.1 by 2030 and continuing downward to 2.9 by 2050. This projection is worrisome because family caregivers provide the majority of long-term care for older adults. Caregivers are usually women, and most are employed. They spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care, and over one-third have children or grandchildren under 18 living at home.

Indeed, the emotional, relational, financial, and time burdens can be difficult for caregivers to manage–especially employed caregivers. In the Future of Children, authors Ann Bookman and Delia Kimbrel say that adults may actually spend more time caring for their parents than they did caring for their children. Smaller families, and the fact that potential caregivers live further away than in the past, make it more challenging to care for older family members. To care for the growing elderly population and ease the burden on caregivers, Bookman and Kimbrel argue for better coordination among health-care providers, nongovernmental community-based service providers, employers, government, families, and the elderly themselves. They especially recommend that employers offer more flexible work arrangements for caregivers, such as part-time work, paid leave, paid sick days, and other “elder-friendly” benefits. They also remind us that “today’s children will be the workers, citizens, and family caregivers who will care for the growing U.S. elderly population tomorrow. Focusing on children’s healthy development and education will build their capacity to provide supportive care for the elders of future generations.” For more information see the Future of Children issue on Work and Family.

Children and Immigration Reform

Recently, the Senate passed an immigration reform bill and President Obama has urged the House to do the same. Such a measure would likely provide a path to citizenship for approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants. The House is debating whether the possibility of citizenship might apply only to those who were brought illegally as children and not to those who crossed the border as adults, meaning parents might face a greater risk of deportation than their children.

Immigration reform would certainly affect many families, especially the 5 million children who have at least one parent who is an undocumented immigrant. As Future of Children authors Nancy S. Landale, Kevin J. A. Thomas, and Jennifer Van Hook write, the number of unauthorized immigrants arrested at workplaces has increased, and the children related to those who are arrested often experience family separation and material hardship. If deportations increase, more children could find themselves in this situation.

Such experiences affect children’s psychological well-being. Children in families directly affected by immigration enforcement via workplace raids tend to feel abandonment, fear, social isolation, and anger. Children and parents may also experience chronic stress. To learn more about the challenges that immigrant children and their families face, along with pertinent policy recommendations, see the Future of Children issue on Immigrant Children.

A Culture of Flexibility

In the US, employees with more education and higher salaries generally have greater access to workplace flexibility (for example, time off, adjustable schedules, etc.) than do low-wage workers. But even among those who have access, write Future of Children authors Ellen Galinsky, Kelly Sakai, and Tyler Wigton, the culture surrounding flexibility may deter employees from taking advantage of it. Sixty-one percent of employees believe they would be less likely to get ahead in their jobs if they asked for flexibility.

Workplace flexibility is important for both women and men, but it is especially important for mothers of young children. Princeton University’s Ann-Marie Slaughter argues that mothers in professional or leadership positions will not be able to successfully juggle work and family until workplace norms and values allow for more balance. Consistent with this view, Gallinsky, Sakai, and Wigton report that the higher employees climb the professional ladder, the more likely they are to agree that they have had to choose between advancing in their jobs and devoting time to family life.

This month, research by the New York Times suggests that many working mothers, especially those with young children, may not be aspiring to top leadership positions. Though half of all mothers in the US work full time, a recent poll shows that only a quarter would choose to work full-time if they had the freedom to do whatever they wanted. Thus, for some women workplace flexibility may be more important than career advancement.

Changing the culture of workplace flexibility is an important first step for improving work-family balance. Gallinsky, Sakai, and Wigton outline several strategies for increasing flexibility. Developed by the Families and Work Institute, these strategies include community collaboration and educational events, media outreach, and measuring results. The details of these strategies, along with research and policy recommendations for workplace flexibility, can be found in the Future of Children issue on Work and Family.

High-Quality Childcare: Good for Kids, Good for Moms

“Balancing the competing needs of work and family life is a challenge for most households, but the difficulties may be greatest for households with young children, defined here as newborns through age five. Parents in many of these families struggle to find sufficient time both to fulfill work responsibilities and provide the intensive care that young children require.” The Future of Children: Work and Family

The first difficult and very important work and family decision a parent makes is who will care for the child while the parent is working. Choosing childcare is one of the largest stressors that a parent faces when returning to work.

A new study in the journal Child Development finds that high-quality early child care can have a significant impact on children’s wellbeing, and is important for mothers as well. High-quality child care is not about drilling children in educational facts, but more about low student to teacher ratio, age appropriate books and toys, and teachers who are attentive to the children and their developmental needs.

“Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin looked at data from more than 1,300 children whose care settings were evaluated at various intervals from the time they were a month old until they turned 4 ½. Their mothers were interviewed too. Those moms whose kids were cared for early on in “high-quality non-parental care” settings–either in day care centers or in others’ homes–were more likely than mothers who cared for their kids themselves or sent them to low-quality day care to be involved in their children’s schools starting in kindergarten… Robert Crosnoe, a professor of sociology in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin who led the study, notes that “children make a smoother transition to school when families and schools are strongly connected.”

(Time Healthland- February 15, 2012)

As noted in the Future of Children’s Work and Family volume, formal (center- or school-based) early childhood education and care received immediately before kindergarten appears to promote school readiness. Children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, who attend prekindergarten in the year before formal schooling begin that formal schooling with better math and reading skills, although some of these gains may be transitory or offset by later compensatory education that targets less-prepared children. Head Start participation is also associated with better dental care and overall health as well as with reductions in obesity.

Despite these positive findings, however, the volume is careful to note that, when taken together, research findings related to early childhood care and education are ambiguous, due in part to the high variability in services provided and the difficulty of determining which outcomes are of key interest (for example, cognitive test scores at school entry versus long-term educational and developmental outcomes.)

The one finding that remains certain from the current research base is that quality of care matters. High-quality care mitigates any negative consequences of early childhood care and education and enhances its benefits.

For more on this issue, go to the Future of Children Work and Family chapter on “Policies to Assist Parents with Young Children.”

Workplace Flexibility as Anti-Poverty Strategy

Under pressure to balance their budgets, states are cutting government subsidies that help pay for child care as reported on December 13 in The New York Times. The reduction threatens the wellbeing of families by making it more difficult for parents to maintain their jobs while caring for their children. One option to offset the impact of such cuts may lie in increased provisions of workplace flexibility.

Research included in the Future of Children’s Work and Family volume, released by Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and the Brookings Institution, finds workplace flexibility is linked with engagement, satisfaction, retention, and better health for employees; and higher productivity and a better “bottom line” for employers. The volume also shows that providing short to moderate periods of paid parental leave – from three to twelve months – for all workers is unlikely to have negative repercussions in the labor market and is likely to have positive benefits for child and family wellbeing.

In a global comparison, the data presented in the volume suggest that guaranteeing paid parental leave as well as paid leave when a child is sick is feasible for the United States without jeopardizing its competitive economy or low unemployment rates in the future. And perhaps contrary to popular opinion, the volume shows that when employees are offered workplace flexibility, they tend to use it conservatively, minimizing costs to employers.

“Allowing employees more control over their hours and more flexibility to adjust hours or work location when family demands arise can lead to increased employee productivity, satisfaction, and retention,” say issue editors Sara McLanahan of Princeton and Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University. “Far from representing a cost to employers, such policies, if well designed to take into account the needs of both employers and employees, can yield benefits.”

Paid leave and workplace flexibility policies are particularly important for low-income workers, who are the least likely to have access to flexibility policies. For these families, taking care of their families can put their wages – and their jobs – at risk. Because current welfare policies encourage low-income parents to work, workplace policies that encourage job retention should follow.

In the face of unprecedented federal government budget strains, the volume recommends initiatives with minimal costs and maximum benefits. Namely, the volume recommends that state and local governments pass paid leave initiatives (Connecticut recently became the first state to require employers to provide paid sick leave); that employers implement workplace flexibility policies that encourage “right to request” and “compensatory time”; and that community organizations think carefully about the ways they can adjust their work to better accommodate working families by, for example, changing the hours they are open or providing better coordination of care.

Big Bird as Babysitter?

The American Academy of Pediatrics once again urges parents of infants and toddlers to limit screen-time for their children, says The New York Times; and based on figures in Future of Children’s Children and Electronic Media and reports from the Kaiser Foundation, the timing couldn’t be better: more than three quarters of households with children age six and under have personal computers; nearly a third of children under age two have a television in their bedrooms. With the exception of sleeping, American youth of today spend more time with media than any other activity.

Young children’s increasing media exposure could be catalyzed by other trends. The current economic crisis has pulled hundreds of American homes below the poverty line, and Future of Children’s Work and Family reports that divorce rates, working mothers, and single-parent households are on the rise. In many households, both parents must work to make ends meet, limiting the amount of time parents can spend with their children. Low-wage working parents are the least likely to have the resources and flexible work schedules to be involved with their children.

Findings suggest that the children most affected by these economic changes could be the most at risk of high media exposure. A 2011 nationally representative study of over 1300 parents of children ages 0 to 8, found that children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds spend more time with media and are much more likely to have a TV in their bedroom. As many as 42% of these parents say they sometimes use media to occupy their children while they do chores. Similarly, the Kaiser Foundation found that many parents encourage their children to use media because it gives them a chance to get things done without having to worry about leaving them unsupervised.

What can be done to ensure more positive outcomes for children using new media?

The main lesson learned from the Future of Children’s Children and Electronic Media volume can be captured in one phrase: content matters. Rather than focusing on the type of technology used or how much time is spent with media, parents and policymakers need to focus on what is being offered to children on the various media platforms. In addition, although more research is needed, parents’ co-viewing and mediation can have positive effects on learning from educational media.

As media use plays an increasing role in children’s lives, content selection and parental involvement will become increasingly important. It is critical that parents continue to educate themselves about good media use based on their children’s developmental stages and monitor their children’s media use to ensure that it is healthful and constructive. (See the Children and Electronic Media volume for more on this.)

Children and Electronic Media notes that children under age two benefit more from real-life experiences than they do from video and that too much screen time may lead to childhood obesity and other health problems. However, under appropriate circumstances, technology can be beneficial to children of older ages. Upcoming Future of Children volumes on Children with Disabilities (Spring 2012), Literacy of American Children (Fall 2012), and Postsecondary Education (Spring 2013) will further explore the role of media and technology in children’s learning.

Paid Sick Leave Gaining Momentum

On October 21, the Center for American Progress hosted an event co-sponsored by Half in Ten and the National Partnership for Woman & Families focused on expanding paid sick days coverage.

The Future of Children’s Work and Family volume, which was distributed to attendees at the event, recommends that a minimal amount of paid sick leave be provided to workers. The status quo, whereby the lowest-paid workers are least likely to have paid sick leave or other leave that enables them to take care of family responsibilities, forces working parents to choose between not taking care of their family or losing their wages (or losing their job altogether).

This past spring, Connecticut passed S.B. 913, the Paid Sick Leave bill, which made the state the country’s first to pass a law requiring paid sick days for service employees. Although many salaried workers have paid sick days in their contract, the same does not apply to 80 percent of low-wage workers in Connecticut.

“This discussion is about hourly workers at the lower end of the scale who are the most vulnerable,” said Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy.

Panelists argued that the law promotes increases in health, cuts business costs by reducing risks associated with employees coming to work while sick, garners bi-partisan support, and is not abused by employees.

For more information on the event at the Center for American Progress go to:

To read the Future of Children’s Work and Family volume and policy brief go to: