Children of mothers in high-stress jobs have lower-than-average levels of verbal skills as measured on standardized tests, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America. The researchers report this phenomenon is more pronounced for less-educated women.
Sociologist Amy Hsin, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan, and economist Christina Felfe at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, compared assessments of verbal skills of 5- to 12-year-olds with the jobs their mothers held. Those jobs were ranked in terms of stress, with both physical hazards and social pressures taken into account.
High-stress jobs for well-educated mothers included nursing and teaching. Those for less-well-educated mothers included factory work and housecleaning.
“For both less-educated and highly educated mothers, the degree of hazards or social stress experienced at work is negatively correlated with children’s language development,” Hsin reports.
The researchers did not find that the stressed-out mothers spend fewer hours with their offspring.
“We find that total time (a mother spends with her child) and time spent on educational activities (i.e. playing, reading, arts and crafts, etc.) do not differ across work conditions,” Hsin said. “We speculate that the source of the problem is less about time per se than the type of interactions that are occurring during time spent together.
“When a woman comes home from a stressful day at work, she may be less patient, less responsive and talk less to her children. Or the type of conversation may be short or even dismissive rather than interactive and engaging.”
The researchers believe better access to intellectually enriching day care and preschool programs is a possible solution to this problem. “Providing affordable, high-quality day care is beneficial for mom, child and family,” Hsin said.
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