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Parental work, child-care use and young children's cognitive outcomes


This paper uses three cycles of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY) to examine whether parental labour market participation and the use of substitute child-care influence the development of the skills needed by pre-school-aged children in order to begin school. The analysis in this paper is based on the arguments that parent-child interaction fosters the development of the skills needed by pre-school-aged children in order to begin school successfully, and that full-time participation in the work force by lone parents (in one-parent families) and by both parents (in dual-parent families) often results in comparatively less time for parent-child interaction than in families with a stay-at-home parent. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to determine whether reductions in parental time spent with children as a result of work outside the home impact the intellectual development of young children.

The study indicates that parental participation in the labour market has little effect on the school readiness scores of most pre-school-aged children. However, children's school readiness does appear to be influenced by parental labour market participation if the parents exhibit above-average parenting skills and levels of parental education. Children of mothers who display above-average parenting skills and higher levels of education tend to benefit slightly when their mothers do not work outside the home. Likewise, children of fathers with above-average education exhibit slightly higher cognitive outcomes if their fathers work part time.

Although the author finds that there is no association between the number of hours that children spend in child care and their level of school readiness, the study does observe that among pre-school children in substitute child-care, those who come from higher-income families tend to score higher on the school readiness tests than do children from lower-income families. This finding may be attributed to the possibility that children in higher-income families are exposed to a higher quality of substitute child-care, or it may be attributed simply to the advantages of growing up in a family with greater resources.

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