NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Study Questioned That Claims Mothers' Absence Doesn't Affect Children

April 1, 1999

Like most of the news media, "The CBS Evening News" trumpeted a new study as finding "children of women who work outside the home do just as well as those with stay at home moms...." Unlike previous research, the study did not find that a mother's absence produced any negative effects on her children -- whether the mother was gone a few hours a week or as many as 40 hours, and regardless of how early in a child's life the absence began.

But the Statistical Assessment Service says the study's generalizations are unjustified, since instead of a cross-section of the population, the sample studied was heavily skewed toward mothers who were young, poor, ill-educated and minority group members.

The study, published in Developmental Psychology, evaluated the thought processes and behavior of 6,000 children aged 3 to 12. For the various age categories of children studied:

  • The mothers ranged from 48 percent to 59 percent African- American or Hispanic -- whereas blacks are only 13 percent of the U.S. population and Hispanics only 8 percent to 11 percent (depending on racial classification).
  • The average income of families in the study ranged from $14,168 to $23,697 -- compared to $42,500 average for all American families.
  • And 33 percent to 45 percent of the mothers were unmarried at the time of the child's birth -- compared to 27 percent for the general population.

Since many of the children may already have been "at risk" due to social and economic deprivation, potentially negative effects of the mother's absence may have been diminished. Moreover, the study did not examine the care the children received absent their mothers -- institutional day care or care by other family members. As study author Elizabeth Harvey notes, "These results may not be generalized to older, higher [status] parents."

Source: "Good News for Moms: No One Misses You," Vital Stats, March 1999, Statistical Assessment Service, 2100 L Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, (202) 223-3193.


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