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Working and Watching: Maternal Employment Status and Parents' Perceptions of Their Three-Year-Old Children

Urie Bronfenbrenner, William F. Alvarez and Charles R. Henderson, Jr.
Child Development
Vol. 55, No. 4 (Aug., 1984), pp. 1362-1378
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1130006
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1130006
Page Count: 17
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Working and Watching: Maternal Employment Status and Parents' Perceptions of Their Three-Year-Old Children
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Abstract

To explain reported differences in effects of maternal employment on the child, the authors investigated the hypothesis that the mother's work situation influences parents' perceptions of their 3-year-old children. The sample consisted of 152 white, 2-parent families. As hypothesized, mothers working full-time painted the least flattering picture of a son and the most complimentary portrait of a daughter (but only if the mother had more than a high school education). The differences remained significant after control for possible confounding by demographic factors or by generalized response sets. Analysis of fathers' descriptions, obtained independently, exhibited the same pattern. Statistical analogues simulating more complex ecological models revealed that maternal employment entails both costs and benefits for the family as a child-rearing system. In contemporary American society, increasing education for mothers appears to catalyze a positive connection between maternal employment and parental perception of daughters but a reverse relationship for sons, or for daughters of mothers with limited education. These differences tend to be accentuated in families with children of only one sex.

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