Actually, it's good for low-income kids if their mom works

At the PsySociety blog, Melanie Tannenbaum looks at the meta-analysis cited by Erik Erikson of as proof that low-income families fare worse when mom works outside the home — and finds that it says exactly the opposite. This post is notable not only for deconstructing a "common sense" belief, but also for doing a great job of explaining what a meta-analysis is and why it matters. Also provides a full daily serving of Fox News schadenfreude.


  1. Also provides a full daily serving of Fox News schadenfreude.

    I don’t see how it will provide any schadenfreude. I bet not 2% of people who heard the first story will hear the correction, and of them only half will care.

    A lie can get half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on. Fox News has always relied on that.

  2. Whenever anyone would espouse the virtues of a stay at home mum, I’d accuse them of laziness and then point out they’re insulting my mother (who was not a stay at home mum).

    It felt good.

    1. Responding to someone saying something positive about a group of people by insulting them and twisting their words to say they are insulting your mother doesn’t seem to me to be something to feel good about. Maybe they were doing more than espousing and you were in the right, but as a stay at home mom, I don’t think of myself as lazy. I am not as mentally challenged by this work as I was by my work outside the home before I had kids, but it is certainly not an easy job. We are lucky enough to be able to choose what childcare solution is right for our family, and I wish every family had that choice – and that others respected that right.

      1.  Liam said he accused his interlocutors of laziness (as in lazy thinking — at least that’s my impression) — not SAHMs.

  3. Interesting! These findings don’t seem consistent with studies I’ve read/heard about, which demonstrated that stimulation at very early ages (like, from birth to 3) is central to cognitive development. I guess that isn’t the variable being tested here, though it seems related. (I don’t have links for the studies I’ve mentioned–I either read or heard about them years ago.)

    Maybe the studies I’m referencing are correct, though, and maybe children on welfare whose mother’s work end up getting more stimulation than those whose mother’s don’t work–maybe the mother who works is less preoccupied/stressed with money matters and therefore able to facilitate development more effectively in the time she can spend with the child. And maybe babysitter/daycare situations end up being good for stimulation, too. Or maybe those studies are wrong, and stimulation isn’t as important as I think it is.

    At any rate, I was fortunate enough to be raised in a two-parent home, with a Mom who, after trying babysitters, decided she’d rather stay at home with me. She spent hours each day teaching me the alphabet, helping me work through puzzles, fostering an interest in reading and drawing, etc., and for that I’m eternally grateful, no matter what the verdict on stimulation’s importance to development ends up being.

    1. Quality of daycare is crucial for this.  The socialization aspect is actually superior to sitting at home alone with Mom, and the enrichment opportunities are at least as good….as long as the employees are well trained (and paid) and the ratio of kids:adults is reasonable.

      1. That makes a lot of sense–I hadn’t considered that aspect. And I do feel, despite having had a couple friends before kindergarten, that I was behind in terms of social development for much of grade school.

      2. I remember reading a decade or so ago that children did best with a parent until about age two and then did much better by moving to a situation with other children.

    2. You’re assuming that kids don’t get stimulation from anyone but mom. My mom ran a home daycare for a good chunk of my childhood. Daycare isn’t a baby warehouse. 

      1. I don’t think I assumed that. I only know my experience, and I made an effort to convey I’m by no means certain or fully informed on these matters. In fact, reading my comment over, I can’t find a single outright assertion.

        1. I’m actually not trying to start a fight here, just pointing out that the statement “These findings don’t seem consistent with studies I’ve read/heard about, which demonstrated that stimulation at very early ages (like, from birth to 3) is central to cognitive development” is based on the assumption that daycare doesn’t provide stimulation. And it does. (Or, at least, good ones do.)

          If that statement isn’t based on that assumption, then the statement doesn’t make any sense, because the findings on moms working outside the home would still be consistent with the findings on early childhood stimulation. 

          Does that make more sense, in terms of where I’m coming from? I’m not trying to tell you you’re an asshole or anything, just trying to point out that the findings are perfectly consistent — if you account for the fact that daycare is more than a Skinner Box.

      2.  Working in the early childhood field myself, this is so often the assumption. We talk all the time in my office about how to raise the field of early childhood as a profession, in the eyes of the professionals in the field, and people outside of it. Step one, of course, is getting it through people
        ‘s heads that there is a field called early childhood, and that it is a legitimate profession with a knowledge base, amazingly expansive skill set, and both very bad and exceptionally good practitioners. Hell, even the board of education in my state is only starting to blinkingly roll over and realize that education and quality of care are real concerns below the age of four, and that’s only because of big fat money carrots the fed has been dangling over the last few years. Sadly the assumption that children don’t need, or can’t get mental, emotional, nutritional, and all means of care, guidance,  stiumlation, etc… outside of the home is all too prevalent at all levels. Sadly, those most aware of the efforts are limited to hardline libertarians who think child care policy is about indoctrinating children at a younger and younger age into lefty gub’ment schools, and  those in the field itself.

    3.  Still wading through the article here, but it’s important to remember that correlation does not imply causation. So far, it looks like one interpretation of these findings is that the children of women who are able to find jobs will be better off in certain ways than the children of women who have the same socio-economic status, same ethnicity,  etc., but aren’t able to find jobs.  If so, then it’s likely that more socialization from their mother would make the kids better off, but whatever stuff they get from being the kids of a woman who can find a job is enough to more than offset this.

      Not saying this is the correct interpretation, mind, just that it’s one possible interpretation.

    1. Any conservative will tell you the main constraint is Calvinist God’s divine wrath at their moral shortcomings.

  4.  I always thought that conventional wisdom was that it was important to have a working role model in poor families.

  5. This issue is WAY more complicated than either side realizes and affects far more than childhood development.  Everyone needs to read “The Two Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke” by Senator Elizabeth Warren.

  6. The “single mother” narrative is a favorite dog whistle of the right for  black women and children. It’s an oft repeated racist narrative by them to first paint blacks as welfare freeloaders and second to suggest that simply being married to a man is enough to fix all your problems, thus no need for pesky safety nets etc. It’s really gross. You’ll find them going to this “single mother” thing over and over again. I guess this is just an offshoot of that…

    1. I’m white and grew up with a single mother in a time where that phrase was bandied about regularly by “conservative” pundits (anyone remember Murphy Brown?).  It’s misogyny that happens to overlap quite a bit with racism on the Venn diagram of conservative dogwhistling.

      1.  True enough. I grew up with a single mother too. It is focused on a racist narrative though. See Ronald Reagan’s “Welfare Queen”. When you think of “welfare” you’re supposed to immediately think of a single black woman with loads of kids driving a Cadillac.

        1. I recall the scars of St. Ronnie all too well.  He was president for half of the first 16 years of my life.  The thing that bothered me the most about the mental image that was supposed to be conjured is the notion that ‘luxury’ cars don’t ever depreciate or could never possibly have been purchased as high-mileage, 15 year old beaters in a used car lots.

        2. That’s a largely US perspective. See the Daily Mail’s many articles about people receiving benefits in the UK.

  7. Also, the working mother is likely to be all around more competent than many of the nonworkers, specifically those who can’t hold a job. 

    1. I’ve worked at many volunteer jobs. Some of my co-volunteers were people who had never held a paying job. There was a really remarkable inability to perform basic tasks on time and to any kind of standard. Working is, in and of itself, a learned skill.

  8.  Hey, yep. “Stuff they get from being the kids of a woman who can find a job” = money. As the article puts it, “if there’s anything more stressful than being a single mother with a full-time job, it’s being a single mother without a full-time job.

Comments are closed.