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Young children of working mothers have better skills than those of stay-at-home mothers

 mum and child

Young children whose mothers are not working have lower capabilities in terms of talking, social skills, movement and everyday skills, according to new research from LSE and the University of Oxford.

The effect was particularly significant in both everyday skills and social skills. Among other findings were that spending more time in nurseries is associated with better social skills and better everyday skills, while spending more hours being cared for by grandparents is associated with better talking skills and social skills.

The paper, The development and happiness of very young children, by Professor Paul Anand of LSE, the Open University and Columbia University, and Dr Laurence Roope of the University of Oxford is published in the journal Social Choice and Welfare. The children studied were aged two and three.

Having an older mother has a negative effect on all four of the skills assessed: social skills, talking, movement and everyday skills. Conversely, and not surprisingly, having a mother with more years of education has a positive impact on all four capabilities.

The researchers also examined the effect of certain activities on young children and found that reading and shopping made them happiest.

There was also an assessment of which activities had the most impact on skills. Reading or telling stories and singing children’s songs are both found to have a positive impact on talking capabilities. Less obviously, visiting other families with children has a positive impact on talking ability.

Singing children’s songs and painting and doing arts and crafts are found to have a positive impact on the development of movement skills, which researchers linked to the actions associated with songs and the hand skills needed for arts and crafts. Taking walks outdoors is negatively associated with movement skills, which is surprising but may be because children spend long periods in a buggy and spends less time doing other activities which appear to promote skills.

Children with more siblings have better skills in all four areas, perhaps suggesting that they are learning from older siblings, despite having less time interacting with a parent.

The paper concludes: “The welfare and happiness of economic dependents has historically been given relatively little attention in economics, yet it should arguably be a central state of the economics of wellbeing. This paper finds that material affluence is only one of a number of factors important for the development of very young children. More interactive activities between child and carer appear related to the development of both cognitive and non-cognitive capacities – and to child happiness. The finding is plausible and suggests that active parenting plays an important role in child development…the highest payoffs are likely to derive from the activities studied here and possibly even earlier, starting from birth.”

Professor Anand commented: ‘We are delighted that one of first economic studies to look at the behaviour of very young children comes out with positive messages about activity involvement with parents, and shows that different activities promote different skills.'


For a copy of the paper or to interview Professor Anand, please contact Joanna Bale, LSE Media Relations Office, j.m.bale@lse.ac.uk  or 07831 609679

15 November 2016