Canadian mothers' work experience and cognitive behavioural outcomes of their pre-school children

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University of New Brunswick


Using longitudinal data from the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY), I focus on the work experiences of mothers during their children’s early years. The mothers may be partnered or unpartnered across these years. I examine how the parental experience of working and not working affects the receptive vocabulary and inattentive-hyperactive behaviour—both important components of emergent literacy—of children at age 4 to 5 years. The data are from the Early Childhood Development (ECD) sample of cycles two to eight (1994-2009) of the NLSCY together with added data from the Canadian censuses of 1996 to 2006. I used multiple regression to model the relationship between the employment and unemployment experiences of mothers and partners and the receptive vocabulary of their children at age 4 to 5 years. Logistic regression models are the tool I used to study the relationships between the experience of extended periods of limited or no work for mothers and families and increases in the likelihood of poor outcomes for their child on scales for either receptive vocabulary or inattention-hyperactivity. These relationships are considered independent of other measures of the household and neighbourhood. The results show that although maternal employment is an important source of resources, it is the employment status of the whole family that is of overriding importance in the expected level of receptive vocabulary of their pre-school children. Thus at a given level of resources, children do equally as well in households where both the mother and father are working as in traditional households where only the father is employed. I observed the lowest expected receptive vocabulary scores for children in households where there is little or no employment. However, other parent behaviour is important; for example, reading daily to the child has a larger effect than household socioeconomic status. In both unemployed sole mother and unemployed couples, the household has no one working or only working intermittently and this increases the likelihood of a poor score on the receptive language scale and a high score on the inattention-hyperactivity scale. I conclude by considering the implications of this research for government policy in Canada.