Prospectus Dissertation Proposal

Published: 2021-06-22 00:48:15
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The Effect of Working Mothers on the Cognitive Development of Infants 0-3 years of age.
Prospectus: The Effect of Working Mothers on the Cognitive Development of Infants 0-3 years of age.
Problem statement
According to Ruhm (2010), a child’s first three years of life are of significant importance. Research has indicated early influences play a key role in brain development. This implies that, for an infant/child, these formative years are likely to have great significance on how the infant/child develops learning skills, emotional security, and self-esteem. In addition, O’Reilly (2012) argued that implications of maternal absence have generated widespread controversy and debate in recent years. These researches conform to Becker’s theory regarding the family which asserts the importance of women in early child-rearing (Becker, 1985). According to Becker (1985), the quality in childcare that a mother brings is significantly lowered when she gets involved in early employment. Becker (1985) argues that the mother’s acquisition of human capital is split in between the various types of capital.
Healthcare professionals and developmental theorists seem to agree that further research with regards to this area is warranted. Some scholar-practitioners have gone further and conducted studies with results indicating that non-maternal infant care may have negative implications on an infant/child cognitive development. Most of the evidence amassed from current research indicates that an investment made by parents (usually the mother) in terms of time spent with the infant/child particularly during the first three years of their life is likely to promote healthy cognitive development (Huerta, 2011). Waldfogel (2008) indicates that when mothers combine employment and childcare, they are likely to provide care giving that is less stimulating and nurturing. This is because greater tiredness as well as stress are likely to hamper the interaction between the mother and her baby. Additionally, research indicates that tired and stressed mothers may not breastfeed their children regularly and that there are detrimental effects associated with formula feeding.
According to Azul (2013), maternal full time employment has become widespread in the United States. A significant portion of mothers in the U.S. are engaged in full time employment during their child’s first year of life. Maternal leave, for most companies, is restricted to the first 4-6 weeks after the child is born. Therefore, mothers return to work when their babies are still in the infancy stage. Waldfogel (2008) indicates that part-time early maternal employment would be a suitable starting point if mothers are to be involved with their children during their crucial formative years in development. This implies that creation of a flexible work schedule for working mothers would be helpful towards lowering early maternal absence.
Giele (2008) and Gregg and Washbrook (2008) have documented that research into the effects of maternal absence on an infant’s/child’s cognitive development was not conclusive. Hence, this research study could be used to fill in or add to the existing gap with regards to future studies in this area of research. In the United States, maternal absence during the child’s first three years could hamper developmental growth and cognitive ability. Thus the objective of this research is to attempt to explore the effect that maternal absence during the infant/child’s first three years could have on the infant’s cognitive development.
The uniqueness of this project stems from the fact that the effect of maternal employment on the infant’s cognitive development is an under-researched area despite research having indicated that early influences play a crucial role in early brain development of the infant. The results as presented by this study aims at providing the highly-needed insight into the mechanisms linking the 0-3 year-old infant’s cognitive development to maternal employment. Additionally, this research aims at providing policy-makers and employers with insight that could enable negotiation for longer maternal leave. This research may also equip early childhood intervention programs with crucial information that may lead to better outcomes. Because many mothers in the United States return to work in the crucial early stages of infant development, this research is a positive step towards influencing social change in regards to maternal leave.
- Azul (2013) provided information that more than half the numbers of children under 5 years in the United States have working mothers. The research argues that a significant portion of mothers in the U.S. are engaged in full time employment during their child’s first year of life. Additionally, maternal leave for most companies is restricted to the first 4-6 weeks after the child is born. This implies that most mothers return to work when their babies are still in the infancy stage.
- Huerta (2011) investigates the influence of maternal employment and child development in five OECD countries. The study shows that the effects on cognitive development of the child where the mother returns to employment within 6 months of childbirth are small and not observed universally. The author uses analyses to forward his argument that other factors like parental education, quality of the child’s interaction with other children and family income are likely to influence the child’s development more than early maternal presence or absence.
- O’Reilly (2012) provides evidence of research that early maternal employment may lead to negative developmental outcomes for the infant. The paper also highlights the debate and controversy in the psychology discipline that surrounds social, cognitive and emotional development of the infant and the role of parents in safeguarding proper infant development. The research further indicates the gap that exists in research and the failure of research in generating social change. This failure is evidenced by the rising trend of mothers returning to paid employment within one year of their baby/ infant’s birth.
- Ruhm (2010) also highlights the significance of maternal presence on early childhood cognitive development and on later outcomes like how the infant/child develops learning skills, emotional security, and self-esteem.
- Gregg and Washbrook (2008) perform an extensive study involving 12,000 births to investigate the implications of early maternal employment on infant behavioral and cognitive outcomes. The results presented indicate that full-time maternal employment that begins within 18 months of childbirth introduces small negative implications on child outcomes later on life. The paper further concludes that part time work as well as work that begins after 18 months seemingly does not have adverse consequences. Some of the factors investigated by this paper include parental behavior, maternal tiredness, stress, breast-feeding behavior, instances of non-maternal childcare and household income. The research emphasizes the significant of the father’s involvement in the child-rearing process so as to minimize the effects of maternal absence. Additionally, Gregg and Washbrook (2008) claims that paternal involvement in childcare produces better developmental outcomes than paid childcare or unpaid childcare by a relative or friend.
- Waldfogel (2010) details the existing research on the implications of maternal employment on the cognitive development of the infant. This study further relates these effects with those of the potential positive or negative implications of early childhood intervention programs on the child’s cognitive development. The paper provides realistic approaches to these questions by indicating that maternal employment has its benefits because it is crucial in ensuring that the child is well-provided with a comfortable life and that education will also be provided. Waldfogel (2010), therefore, implies that lowering the rate of maternal employment would be a difficult task. This is because while the importance of early maternal presence for the child’s development and well-being cannot be over-emphasized, maternal employment might also be crucial for the family and, specifically, the child. By studying the different dynamics that exist in the family, the author identifies the knowledge gaps that exist in literature and suggests ways in which future studies may be phrased so as to address these knowledge gaps and provide a credible framework for policy development and implementation.
This study’s theoretical framework will be Becker’s Theory regarding the family. Becker postulated that women have a relative advantage in terms of child rearing and home production. According to Becker (1985), the quality provided towards childcare by the mother in terms of time investment is lowered considerably when she becomes involved in paid employment. This can be linked further with evidence that suggests that greater tiredness in mothers as a result of combining childcare and employment in the early years of the child may contribute to less stimulating and nurturing care giving.
Research questions
RQ1-Qualitative: Does maternal employment have an effect on the cognitive development of the infant (0-3 years of age)?
RQ2-Quantitative: How is the effect on the infant’s cognitive development manifested in the infant in terms of cognitive scores behavioral, social or emotional characteristics?
Nature of the study
This study will have a mixed method which has a qualitative focus. Qualitative research is crucial in understanding whether and how early maternal employment affects the cognitive development of infants (0-3 years of age) which is this dissertation’s primary focus. Maintaining this focus on the cognitive development of infants is in-keeping with Becker’s (1985) expectations that mothers have a significant role to play in the early cognitive development of the infant. To elaborate how the viability of this research emerges, cognitive scores of infants (0-3 years of age) will be examined for infants under early maternal care (0-3 years) and those without early maternal care. This quantitative analysis will provide credibility to the qualitative analysis as obtained through qualitative means, helping to answer the research questions comprehensively.
Possible Sources and Types of Data or Information
- Children cognitive test scores (These are test scores for infants under early parental care and those under early non-parental care).
- Parent and care-giver interview and surveys (undertaken on employed and unemployed parents who are have infants 0-3 years of age; care-givers who are taking care of infants whose mothers are in employment).
This study presents a few challenges. However, the most significant challenge is in the conducting of cognitive tests on the infants. This is because the infants need to be comfortable with the individual carrying out the tests. This would call for involvement of a person whom the child is used to.
Azul, P. (2013). Do Working Mothers Affect Cognitive Development? - Preschooler. Preschooler - The Bump. Retrieved April 21, 2013, from
Becker, G (1985) ‘Human Capital, Effort and the Sexual Division of Labor’ Journal of Labor Economics, 3(1), pp. S33-S58
Giele, J. (2008). Homemaker or Career Woman: Life Course Factors and Racial Influences
Among Middle Class Americans.Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 39(3), 393-
Huerta, M., D. (2011).Early Maternal Employment and Child Development in Five OECDCountries. Paris: OECD Publishing.
O’Reilly, E. (2012). The Impact of Maternal Employment on Infant Attachment and Cognitive Development.Medical Student Journal of AustraliaLiterature Reviews, 4(1), 30.
Ruhm, C. J. (2010). Parental Employment and Child Cognitive Development.University of North Carolina at Greensboro and National Bureau of Economic Research, 1(1), 4.
Waldfogel, J. (2008). Child care, women’s employment, and child outcomes. Journal of Population Economics, 10(2), 527–548.

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