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Abstract

There is probably no aspect of the work versus welfare debate that is more contested than the effects of welfare use on child development outcomes. Liberals tend to emphasize the detrimental effects of poverty and welfare stigma on children, while conservatives cite the negative socialization that occurs regarding the value of work within welfare dependent families. However, large scale longitudinal studies that have been used to address this question only indirectly measure critical influences on child development such as maternal mental health and do not consider the effect that a range of economic strategies that low-income mothers might undertake may have on their children. In this analysis, we employ data from a longitudinal study of 173 teen-mothers to assess the relative effects of maternal characteristics and economic strategies on the developmental outcomes of their children at time of school entry. Two principal findings emerge. First, over the period from their first teen birth to the reference child's entry into school, the sample subjects used a variety of household economic strategies aside from the simple welfare versus work dichotomy that is commonly used to depict the choices of teen-mothers. Second, while maternal depression appears linked to the prevalence of problem behaviors in early childhood, the particular economic strategies used by the mothers in the sample do not explain any variation in either the prevalence of problem behaviors or in children's learningp reparationf or school entry. These findings support the perspective that the influence of teen mothers' parenting qualities on child development cannot be assessed through an analysis of their labor force participation, use of welfare, or other strategies of household subsistence.

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