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Informal childcare has negative effects on child development

31 August 2005

Single mothers who use informal childcare arrangements after the first year of birth might be hampering their child's development, the 2005 World Congress of the Econometric Society, which is hosted by UCL (University College London), will hear today.

Using a sample of 1,519 single mothers drawn from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in the States, Professor Raquel Bernal of Northwestern University, and Professor Michael Keane of Yale University, evaluated the impact of maternal time and income on child development.

The results revealed that formal childcare, such as pre-school o r formal centre- based care, does not have a n detrimental effect on children. Only non-formal arrangements, such as grandparents, siblings or non - relatives, lead to significant reductions in a child's achievement, particularly if they're used after the child's first year. The researcher found that an additional year of informal childcare reduced test scores by 2.8 per cent.

They also found that household income has little effect when the mother's level of education is taken into account.

“Extensive research has shown that a child's early achievement is a strong predictor of a variety of outcomes later in life: high achievers are more likely to have higher educational attainment and higher earnings; and less likely to have out-of-wedlock births, be on welfare or turn to crime,” says Professor Bernal.

“For this reason, the issue of what determines the ability of individuals at early stages of life is critical for the design of public policy aimed at improving labour market outcomes. Our research suggests that separation from the mother has a negative effect on a child's ability but this can be partially offset by the appropriate choice of day-care.”

The effect of parental time inputs and childcare quality on children's development has been widely analysed and is of particular interest to economists trying to understand determinants of an individual's future earning capacity.

The study focused on single mothers because recent changes in US welfare rules have substantially altered work decisions in recent years. In the US, welfare waivers and the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) programme, along with increased day-care subsidies have substantially increased employment and childcare among single mothers. Also, previous studies have not considered self-selected childcare arrangements and have often relied on small sample groups.

The researchers looked at mothers who were single with no live-in male during the first five years after the birth of the child. At least one cognitive test score had to be taken for each child. The welfare reform induced more women to work and use day - care, so they were able to compare children outcomes for children born prior to the welfare reform (approximately 1,268 women had children prior to 1990) with children outcomes after the reform (251 women had children between 1990 and 2000) to measure the effect of day care on children.

Several measures of child cognitive ability are available from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The authors used two of these instruments: the Peabody Individual Achievement Test which is a vocabulary test and a measure of verbal ability (for children ages 3 to 5 ) and the Peabody Individual Achievement Test which measures mathematical ability as well as reading and comprehension skills of children 5 years old and above.

“We're not advocating that women stay at home, rather we must provide women with the appropriate types of day-care, subsidise day-care or create the incentives for firms to have on-site day-care centres," added Professor Bernal

Professor Raquel Bernal of Northwestern University will present the paper ‘Maternal time, child care and cognitive development: the case of single mothers' on Monday 22 August 2005 at 11:15 BST

For further information, please contact:

Professor Raquel Bernal
Northwestern University
Tel: + (57) 315 305 8631
Email: rbernal@northwestern.edu

Judith H Moore
UCL Media Relations Manager
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 7678
Mobile : +44 (0) 77 333 075 96
Email: Judith.moore@ucl.ac.uk

Notes to editors:

About the World Congress of the Econometrics Society

The Econometric Society is the leading international learned society in the field of economics, and its quinquennial world congress is recognised as the most prestigious in economics. UCL is hosting the ninth Econometric Society World Congress from 18-24 August 2005, which is the first time the Congress has been held in London and has not been hosted by a UK institute for 35 years. A full copy of the programme can be accessed on the 2005 Econometric Society World Congress website: http://www.eswc2005.com

About the UCL Department of Economics

The Chair of Political Economy at UCL was created in 1828 establishing the first Department of Economics in England . The modern department has an outstanding international reputation in key areas of current research including applied theory, microeconometrics, game theory, labour economics, development economics, macroeconomics, industrial economics and environmental economics. It is one of only four economics departments in the UK to achieve the 'double 5*' rating in the two most recent (2001) national Research Assessment Exercises (RAE).