Panel: Change Is Constant: Taking a Dynamic Approach to Understanding Socioeconomic Status and Family Functioning
(Family and Child Policy)

Saturday, November 8, 2014: 1:45 PM-3:15 PM
Jemez (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Jessica F. Harding, New York University
Panel Chairs:  Maia Connors, New York University
Discussants:  M. Robin Dion, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Associations Between Maternal Engagement in Education and Positive Parenting Practices
Jessica F. Harding and Pamela Morris, New York University

This panel considers the implications of dynamics in socioeconomic status (SES; income, employment, and education) on family functioning. SES is often treated as a stable characteristic, often measured annually at most. But in reality instability is more commonplace than is often considered, especially for low-income families. Household income and poverty may fluctuate considerably, employment may be lost and gained, and educational attainment may increase. According to some estimates, annual income volatility has increased by nearly one-third over the past fifty years; sixty percent of low-wage workers experience at least one spell of unemployment within a period of three years; and low-income mothers oftentimes interrupt their schooling to care for their children, and return to education as their children age. Indeed, even early research on income and poverty has pointed to the importance of empirically assessing the dynamic nature of individual and household economic circumstances. Instability may affect family well-being over and above SES. Highly volatile or unstable income can undermine the consistency with which parents can support children’s development—financially or otherwise. Parental job losses can affect family functioning through changes in family income, child care arrangements, and parents’ psychological well-being. Finally, increases in maternal education may lead to positive changes in parenting behaviors and subsequent child outcomes, as parents gain more knowledge that can be applied to child development, but may also cause changes in family routines that could be harmful for children. In this panel, we draw attention to instability in SES measured three ways – income, employment status and education – and consider the relationship between dynamics in SES and children and families. Paper 1 employs longitudinal growth modeling to explore the relationship between changes in maternal education and the development of children’s language and literacy skills between the ages of 3 and 8 years old, using data from the Head Start Impact Study (HSIS). Findings suggest that children’s language and literacy scores improve when their mothers attain additional education. Paper 2 uses data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation to assess how income instability and employment instability, as well as income level, are related to maternal well-being and child routines for low- and middle-income households. Findings suggest that income instability affects family routines over and above income level. Paper 3 uses a regression-based subgroup approach to leverage the HSIS to explore the relationship between maternal engagement in education and parenting practices. Overall, these papers illustrate the dynamic nature of socioeconomic status and how it can affect family functioning, both positively (in the case of increases in maternal education) and negatively (in the case of income instability). The panel sheds light on the need to consider household instability as a critical component of households’ economic reality. Implications for researchers, practitioners and policy-makers will be discussed.
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