Caring for children within structures of constraint
Parrott, Heather Macpherson
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In this study, I use data from Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and the Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP) surveys to explore the effects of childcare on mothers’ social mobility. I specifically examine how childcare affects mothers’ educational enrollment, wages, and welfare receipt across groups of women by race/ethnicity, class, and marital status. I test the extent to which variations in social mobility across groups are attributable to differences in human capital and the effects of childcare on human capital development, or whether variations are the result of structural constraints. I find that although childcare may be helpful in some circumstances, childcare and specific childcare arrangements have uneven effects, at best, on mobility across groups of women. Mothers’ opportunities for mobility are constrained by their locations within other structures (i.e. race/ethnicity, class, and marital status) in ways that typically exceed any impact that childcare may have on their human capital development and subsequent wage growth. Further, I reaffirm that human capital theories are insufficient for explaining the economic inequality of women or economic inequality among women—some groups of women experience persistent inequality even after accounting for differences in human capital. Black and Hispanic mothers appear to have particularly bleak prospects for economic stability and mobility regardless of childcare type or human capital development. Though they do not experience motherhood wage penalties and are more likely than White mothers to be enrolled in further education as mothers, these groups have lower overall wages, higher rates of welfare receipt, and they do not experience wage increases commensurate with work experience.