Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Great Recession and Parenting

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 2:05 PM
Merrick I (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Will Schneider, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Jane Waldfogel, Columbia University
The family stress model (Elder, 1974) describes the pathways through which individual economic hardship results in adverse changes in parenting. The Great Recession, beginning in December 2007 and officially ending in June 2009 (NBER, 2010) was the largest economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression. The goal of the present study was to examine the association between the Great Recession and mothers’ parenting.

In his seminal study of the children of the Great Depression, Elder (1974) documented the ways in which economic hardship increased harsh parenting and marital conflict resulting in increased negative behaviors in children. Given the severity of the Great Recession, the links between it and changes in the wellbeing of children and families may be particularly pronounced. We build on the family stress model by drawing on a set of macroeconomic indicators of the Great Recession, rather than individual level indicators, to investigate the association between the Great Recession and parenting among a low-income at-risk sample. This study is among the first to investigate associations between the Great Recession and a broad range of parenting behaviors (Brooks-Gunn, Schneider, & Waldfogel, 2013; Kalil & Leininger, 2013; Lee et al, 2013).

In this work, we examine the effect of the Great Recession on three aspects of mothers’ parenting: (1) physical and psychological aggression towards children, (2) child physical neglect and supervisory/exposure neglect and, (3) parenting activities, warmth and monitoring. We employ two distinct measures of the Great Recession: national consumer confidence (using data from the Consumer Sentiment Index), and local unemployment rates (from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Specifically, we ask whether declining consumer sentiment and increasing unemployment rates were associated with increased risk of harsh parenting and neglect as well as three aspects of supportive parenting. In addition, we test whether children living with married parents, single mothers, or in household with a social father present, were differentially affected by the Great Recession.

The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is particularly well suited for examining the effects of the Great Recession on families and children. The 9-year follow up survey was collected from May 2007 to February 2010, providing us with a survey frame which includes the Great Recession as well as data prior to and after the recession. We append CSI and unemployment data to the mother’s FFCWS interview by matching the month and year of mother’s interview to the CSI and unemployment rate at that time. This strategy takes advantage of the variation in the timing of FFCWS interviewing in each of the 20 cities surveyed. We find that the Great Recession is associated with increased risk of maltreatment, as well as increased parenting activities and warmth, but decreased monitoring and risk for child neglect and that children living in married households may be particularly vulnerable.