Informal daycare may harm kids' cognitive development, study finds

June 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: Single mothers spend less time with their children than married mothers

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).

Related Stories

IVF does not negatively affect academic achievement

September 22, 2010

Children conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF) perform at least as well as their peers on academic tests at all ages from grade 3 to 12, according to a new University of Iowa study.

Children in formal child care have better language skills

January 5, 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 ...

Breastfed children do better at school, study finds

March 15, 2011

( -- 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, found that ...

Recommended for you

The culinary habits of the Stonehenge builders

October 13, 2015

A team of archaeologists at the University of York have revealed new insights into cuisine choices and eating habits at Durrington Walls – a Late Neolithic monument and settlement site thought to be the residence for the ...

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.