The University Record, May 7, 1996

Moms who work farther from child's caregiver more likely to quit

Rachel Persico drops off her son, Nadeem Shammus, at the Children's Center in the North Ingalls Building, which is administered by the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. Persico is a graduate student at the University.

Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Diane Swanbrow
News and Information Services

Working mothers whose child-care providers are more than 10 minutes from their homes are more likely to leave their jobs than mothers with near-by child-care arrangements.

That is one of the findings in a national study of child care and employment turnover, conducted by U-M researchers.

The study, to be presented May 11---the day before Mother's Day---at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America in New Orleans, is the first study based on a nationally representative sample of working mothers of pre school children to document the link between child-care availability and job stability.

"As the nation debates welfare reform, keeping mothers of young children in the work force long enough to stabilize their lives and improve their situations is crucial," says Sandra Hofferth, a research scientist at the Institute for Social Research, who conducted the study of 1,565 women.

"This study shows that for mothers of pre-school children, the availability of convenient child care, and the existence of back-up child-care arrangements in case problems arise, are important factors keeping them at work."

For the study, Hofferth and Nancy Collins, a graduate student at the Population Studies Center, examined the relation ship between work exits for at least two months among employed mothers of preschool children, and a wide variety of job, demographic, and child-care characteristics.

The average woman in the sample was 30 years old, had completed some college and had approximately 10 years of work experience since her 18th birthday. She had two children, and the youngest was 2 years old. Most (85 percent) were married for at least part of the year covered in the analysis.

About one-quarter of the working mothers left their jobs within a year and didn't go back to work for at least two months. As many as one out of three changed child-care arrangements sometime within the year studied.

Among the key findings:


Mothers using no care were 2.2 times more likely to leave a job than mothers using child-care centers.


Mothers with multiple care arrangements were 53 percent less likely to leave their jobs than those with no child-care arrangements.


Living in an area where there were more child-care centers per pre-school child was associated with a smaller chance that a moderate-wage mother (defined as earning between $6 and $8 per hour) would leave her job.


Unstable child-care increased work exits for moderate- and high-wage, but not for low-wage mothers.


Being more than 10 minutes away from a child-care center was linked with a greater probability of job exit for mothers from middle- and high-income areas (defined in the study as areas where the median per capita income is between $12,942 and $15,574, and over $15,574, respectively). Mothers living in low-income areas (median per capita in come under $12,942) were more likely to leave their jobs if child-care centers were 30 minutes or more away.

The study also examined the link between child-care cost and work stability, according to Hofferth. "We had thought low -income moms would be most affected by cost, but it turns out they aren't as influenced by cost as are moderate-wage mothers, who may not have access to child-care subsidies or public programs and who may have the option not to work outside the home."

According to Hofferth, the public policy implications of this and other study findings are clear: "If we provide child -care services to moderately low-income working mothers, we can influence the chances they will stay in the work force and off welfare."

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.