Study Examines Relationship Between Maternal Employment and Child Maltreatment

Associate Professor Meg Feely co-authored a paper published in Social Service Review that examines the relationship between maternal employment and the risk for child maltreatment. The paper was selected as the editor’s choice article and the only article in the volume available to the public via open access. The editor’s choice are articles that best embody the mission of the journal to publish work that is both empirically and theoretically rigorous, while also being of wide general interest.

The research uses data from the national Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which surveys 5,000 low-income families in 20 cities across 16 states. The study includes data collected from families at birth and repeated at ages 3, 5 and 9. Feely and her co-authors examined the relationship between maternal employment and child maltreatment, including self-reported behaviors from mothers as well as conditions that raise the risk of maltreatment, such as unstable housing.

Feely and the research team found that too little and too much maternal employment was associated with maltreatment risk. “Both working more than full time and much less than full time – the standard 40-hour workweek – starts to increase the risk of gaps in care,” Feely says. These gaps in child care raise the risk of neglect, the most common form of maltreatment.

The findings challenge the theory that more work leads to better outcomes for children, with implications for public policies that impact children and low-income families. Feely and her research colleagues are currently working on another paper looking at the relationship between employment, unemployment and maltreatment.

Read more about Feely’s work.