Kids of unemployed struggle in school
U. CHICAGO (US) — One lingering effect of the Great Recession could be poor academic performance and behavioral problems among children of the unemployed.
“There is growing evidence that parental job loss has adverse consequences on children’s behavior, academic achievement and later employment outcomes, particularly in economically disadvantaged families,” says Heather Hill, assistant professor in the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.
The material hardship and stress associated with unemployment appears to reduce the quality of the home environment and adversely affect children, Hill and colleagues have found. Findings are published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.
The families that Hill studied were largely low-income. She found that, among young children, a maternal job loss is associated with increasing children’s problem behavior in the classroom by more than 40 percent.
She based her work on data collected from single mothers encouraged to go back to work during the welfare reforms of the 1990s. Many of the mothers in the study found work relatively quickly, but subsequently experienced one or more job losses followed by extended periods of unemployment.
Psychological and sociological theories suggest that besides reducing money available to provide for the needs of children, frequent and sustained joblessness could disrupt children’s lives by leading to volatile child care arrangements and additional stress at home.
Prior studies suggest that disruptions in child care lead to lower cognitive development and increased behavior problems. Parental stress and depression “can lead to less nurturing and harsher parenting,” Hill says.
Parental unemployment can lead to problems for children regardless of the family’s income status, however, says Ariel Kalil, professor in the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy Studies.
Kalil studies the impact of parental job loss and unemployment on children and is undertaking new studies focused on the current recession. She found in previous studies of two-parent families that a paternal job loss impacted the welfare of children more significantly than a maternal loss.
Children were 1.6 times more likely to repeat a grade if their father lost a job. Among older children, a father’s job loss was associated with more suspensions and disruptions.
“It was not a matter of income only,” she said. “Even in families in which the mother earned more money than the father, children were not affected as greatly when she lost a job than were the children in families in which the father lost a job,” Kalil says.
The impact of job loss is different for men: “Men’s identity is more closely linked to their jobs, and they are less accustomed to performing the household and child care tasks that women are,” Kalil explains. Women may be more effective being at home with their children during a period of unemployment.
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