Informal daycare may harm kids' cognitive development, study finds

Jun 20, 2011

Formal daycare is better for a child's cognitive development than informal care by a grandparent, sibling, or family friend, according to a study of single mothers and their childcare choices published in the July issue of the Journal of Labor Economics.

According to the study, children who go to a formal preschool program or a licensed daycare center have essentially the same standardized test scores as those who stay home with mom. Conversely, each year of informal care reduces a child's test scores by 2.6 percent versus staying with mom.

"Extensive research has shown that a child's early achievement is a strong predictor of outcomes later in life," said Raquel Bernal of the Universidad de los Andes in Columbia, who performed the research with Michael Keane of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. "This research suggests that separation from the mother has a negative effect on a child's cognitive ability, but this can be offset by the appropriate choice of daycare."

The study took advantage of changes made in the 1990s to U.S. welfare laws that encouraged to enter the workforce. Before the changes, about 59 percent of single mothers worked outside the home. By 2001, that number increased to 72 percent. The researchers compared test scores for children born shortly before and after the law change to find out if increased employment had an effect on children's test scores, after controlling for outside factors such as . The scores came from standardized tests the children took between the ages of 3 and 6.

The study found overall that use of childcare reduces a child's test scores significantly. But when the researchers divided the children in the sample into those who received formal and informal care, they found that the reduction in tests scores was driven solely by children in informal care. In other words, formal care was found to have no adverse effect on test scores.

"The policy implication is that it would be desirable to provide financial support that would enable single mothers to spend more time with their children, or support to place children in formal care at early ages," Bernal said.

Explore further: Why plants in the office make us more productive

More information: Raquel Bernal and Michael P. Keane, "Child Care Choices and Children's Cognitive Achievement: The Case of Single Mothers." Journal of Labor Economics 29:3 (July 2011).

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Breastfed children do better at school, study finds

Mar 15, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers have shown that breastfeeding causes children to do better at school. The research conducted by Oxford University and the Institute for Social and Economic Research, Essex University, ...

Children in formal child care have better language skills

Jan 05, 2011

Fewer children who attend regular formal centre- and family-based child care at 1.5 years and 3 years of age were late talkers compared with children who are looked after at home by a parent, child-carer or in an outdoor ...

Recommended for you

Precarious work schedules common among younger workers

Aug 29, 2014

One wish many workers may have this Labor Day is for more control and predictability of their work schedules. A new report finds that unpredictability is widespread in many workers' schedules—one reason ...

Girls got game

Aug 29, 2014

Debi Taylor has worked in everything from construction development to IT, and is well and truly socialised into male-dominated workplaces. So when she found herself the only female in her game development ...

Computer games give a boost to English

Aug 28, 2014

If you want to make a mark in the world of computer games you had better have a good English vocabulary. It has now also been scientifically proven that someone who is good at computer games has a larger ...

Saddam Hussein—a sincere dictator?

Aug 28, 2014

Are political speeches manipulative and strategic? They could be – when politicians say one thing in public, and privately believe something else, political scientists say. Saddam Hussein's legacy of recording private discussions ...

User comments : 0