The work lives and parenting behaviors of mothers of young children



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Broader structural changes to the U.S. economy, along with short-term fluctuations in the country's economic health, have transformed the nature of work. In response to a more unstable and round-the-clock work environment family life is changing, especially for mothers and their children. Increasingly, social scientists are examining these family implications of employment experiences. This research has highlighted that whether mothers work in the paid labor force or not matters less to their own wellbeing and their children's development than the precariousness of their positions when they do work. This evidence that certain characteristics of work, such as job instability and nonstandard schedules, seem to influence the adjustment and functioning of women for their and their children's wellbeing needs to be extended by efforts to understand how these effects come to be. Parenting, I argue, is an oft hypothesized yet underexplored component by which women's employment affects them and their children. This dissertation, therefore, is comprised of three studies that examine how diverse and unstable experiences that mothers have at work shape how they engage in their parenting roles at home while their children are very young. Drawing from sociological and developmental theoretical frameworks and rich, multi-method longitudinal data sets, I examine: (1) whether both mothers' and fathers' nonstandard work schedules are associated with mothers’ parenting and how shared family dynamics explain these associations; (2) the intersection between mothers' nonstandard work schedules, children's care settings, and maternal sensitivity, and; (3) how entries into new jobs, voluntary exits from jobs, and job loss disrupt mothers' sensitive parenting. The findings from these three aims demonstrate that mothers who have nonstandard work schedules and experience involuntary job loss are less likely to engage in sensitive and cognitively-supportive parenting in the first two years of their children's lives. Because children's care settings are associated with these patterns in protective ways, they represent a policy lever to assist parents in disadvantageous employment situations. Overall, this dissertation uncovers connections between the work and family domains that may play a role in the health and wellbeing of women as well as the transmission of advantage across generations.