Low Scores Linked to Mothers' Working

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Washington--Contradicting the findings of an earlier report, a new federally sponsored study has suggested that children's achievement in school may be lower if both of their parents are employed outside the home.

Children from two-parent families in which the mother works tend to score lower on reading and mathematics achievement tests than do children in two-parent families in which the mother is not employed, the study says.

But "the effect of mothers' working on student achievement depends on the number of parents in the home," the study says. Although the achievement of children from single-parent homes is lower in general, it is somewhat higher if the mother is working, according to the researchers.

Contradicts Earlier Study

The findings of the study, which was sponsored by the Education Department and conducted by Decision Resources, a Washington consulting firm, run counter to those of a report released last month by the National Research Council's Panel on Work, Family, and Community. That report, Children of Working Parents: Experiences and Outcomes, says that "existing research offers no evidence that maternal employment by itself is either good or bad for children, or indeed has any effect."

In 1980, 18.9 percent of children came from single-parent families (up from 11.2 percent in 1970), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Today, more than half of all black children live with one parent--an increase of 16 percent since 1970. Census data also show that, in families where parents live together, women are spending more time away from home. During the 1970's, the number of working mothers rose from 42 percent to 56.6 percent.

According to the study, elementary-school students from single-parent families, particularly black students, perform more poorly in comparison with other students than do high-school students in the same situation. Black elementary-school children living with one parent score up to 9 percentile points lower on standardized tests than do black children from two-parent families.

Time Away Is Key

The study, entitled "Single Parents, Working Mothers, and School Achieve-ment," says that in two-parent families where both parents work, the degree to which employment affects scores is "directly related to the amount of time" that the mother works.

"For instance, white high-school students whose mothers worked full time from preschool through high school score up to 9 percentile points below those whose mothers never worked at all," the study says.

For white high-school students whose mothers work part time, test scores were about 4 percentile points lower than those of students whose mothers never worked.

The study states that in two-parent families "the positive effects of the working mother's income are apparently offset by the negative impact of her time away from home."

But in single-parent families--especially in black families--student achievement is higher if the mother is working. "It appears that the added income contributed by single mothers who work enhances achievement," the study says. The report does not indicate whether this effect cancels out the otherwise negative effects of growing up with only one parent.

Other Variables

Homework and television viewing, two control variables also considered in the study, affect students differently at different ages.

"Spending more time on homework or less time on television" is related to "higher achivement for high-school students but not for elementary-school students," the study says.

The study was conducted by Alan Ginsburg of ed's Office of Planning, Budget, and Evaluation and Ann Milne and David Myers of Decision Resources.

The researchers analyzed data from two national data bases that include information on 15,000 students in the 1976 "Sustaining Effects Study" of Title I and 6,000 students in the 1980 "High School and Beyond" survey.

The study can be obtained at no charge from Alan Ginsburg, Office of Planning, Budget, and Evaluation, Education Department, 400 Maryland Ave. S.W., Room 3127, Washington, D.C. 20202.

The nrc report issued in June was supported by the National Institute of Education and is the second in a series.

It is available for $16.50 (prepaid) from the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20418.

Vol. 02, Issue 40

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