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Patterns of work and welfare linked to children’s behavior problems, lower test scores


ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Among mothers who left welfare for work, older children score lower on math and reading tests than their peers, a new study from the University of Michigan indicates.

The study also shows that older children, whose mothers remain on welfare, also have lower math and reading scores than their peers.

These findings, however, may have been caused by factors other than welfare, said the study’s author Nicole Gardner Neblett, who was a post-doctoral fellow in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy when she conducted the study.

The study examined single mothers’ employment and welfare experiences and how they might affect children. The findings indicate that the pattern of mothers’ welfare and work experiences do matter for children’s outcomes.

Data were collected from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics—a national survey that gathers information on topics such as income, family, employment—and the Child Development Supplement, which tracks the well-being of children and their families. In the U-M study, 820 children ages 3 to 12 and their single mothers were analyzed.

Children whose mothers left welfare for work were also more likely to experience behavior problems than other children. Girls whose mothers left welfare for work also scored lower on math and reading tests than boys.

Other research indicates children whose mothers transitioned to work from welfare may assume additional household responsibilities as well as experience more unsupervised time.

For children whose mothers left welfare for work, younger children scored similarly on their reading and math tests to other children their age. Older children of mothers leaving welfare, however, were vulnerable when it comes to their test scores, which may place them at risk for lower academic achievement and educational attainment, Neblett said.

Other studies show that when single mothers experience economic stress, they are more likely to respond to adolescents with harsh punishment, which contributes to problematic behaviors.

“Given that single mothers have the responsibility to be both parent and breadwinner, they may need additional support and resources to face the stress of meeting both roles,” she said.

The study appears in the August issue of the Journal of Family Issues.


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