Early educational interventions such as Head Start are intended to close the gap in school readiness between low-income and higher-income children. Recently, scholars have suggested enhancing such interventions by promoting enrollment in post-secondary education (PSE;schooling beyond high school or a GED) among the mothers of enrolled children. This suggestion is motivated by a vast literature linking higher maternal education to better child outcomes. However, most of this literature does not distinguish between educations attained before versus after childbearing. The few studies that have examined child development as a function of mothers'postnatal gains in education have followed children for only relatively short periods of time, despite the fact that the short- and long-term effects of mothers'gains in PSE may differ in magnitude or even direction (e.g., PSE may depress income in the short term but augment it in the long term). Moreover, most of these studies have not addressed gains in PSE specifically (i.e., they have examined gains in any education, including high school), nor have they considered a comprehensive set of explanatory mechanisms. The proposed study will be the most thorough examination to date of the effects of gains in low-income mothers'PSE on children's outcomes. We will use the nationally representative National Longitudinal Survey of Youth of 1979, which has surveyed a sample of women who were 14-21 years old in 1979, and assessed their children, biennially through 2010. Using a subsample of low-income women who had not obtained PSE by the time of their first child's birth, we will pursue five research aims. (1) We will examine the short- and long-term effects of mothers'early childhood gains in PSE on children's cognitive and socioemotional outcomes. To overcome the threat of selection bias, propensity score matching will be used. Children whose mothers entered PSE during early childhood will be compared, at ages 7 and 13, to children whose mothers did not. (2) We will identify the mechanisms that link mothers'PSE to child outcomes. We will investigate the mediating role of four dimensions of family life: household income, maternal involvement in parenting, household affective climate, and the home learning environment. (3) We will test whether mothers'co-residence with a partner moderates the effects of mothers'gains in PSE on children. We will test for moderation in models of both the direct and mediated effects of mother's gains in PSE on children's outcomes. (4) We will test whether long-term effects of maternal gains in PSE depend on credentialing. We will compare the children of mothers who did versus did not exit PSE with a credential, and we will investigate the effects of type of credential (vocational certificate versus associate's or bachelor's degree) on children. (5) We will determine the consequences of the timing of mothers'PSE. We will compare children according to whether they were exposed to maternal PSE in early (0- 5) versus middle (6-11) childhood. Results will speak to the wisdom of promoting PSE among low-income mothers of young children, and to the design such programs might take in order to optimize child wellbeing.

Public Health Relevance

Although research links higher maternal education to better child outcomes, it is unclear whether the mothers of low-income children should be encouraged to pursue post-secondary education (PSE). This study assesses the costs and benefits to families and children of low-income mothers'gains in PSE using a national sample. Results will suggest whether low-income mothers'PSE may help close the income gap in school readiness.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Project (R01)
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Psychosocial Development, Risk and Prevention Study Section (PDRP)
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Bures, Regina M
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Columbia University Teachers College
Other Health Professions
Schools of Education
New York
United States
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