The Impact of Parental Employment: Young People, Well-Being and Educational Achievement, by Linda Cusworth

Ashgate, 2009, xvi + 243 pp, hbk 0 754 675594, £60

Do parents’ employment patterns influence their children’s well-being as children, as adolescents, and as adults? The answer is ‘yes’, and this thoroughly researched book is an attempt to understand how and how much.

Cusworth’s first, introductory, chapter understands parents’ employment patterns in terms of ‘their impact upon children’s outcomes in several ways: through the effect on household income and socio-economic circumstances (economic or financial capital); through the provision of cultural norms and expectations (cultural capital); and through family relationships and interaction (social capital). Parents’ qualifications (human capital) also play an important part, and are related to levels of both economic and cultural capital’ (p.3). The second chapter studies this ‘capital’ approach and also the social, policy and theoretical context of this important field of study.

Chapter 3 outlines the research method: cross-sectional and longitudinal data collection and analysis, on employment patterns and outcomes for children, using existing data sets. The following three chapters present analyses of the data on young people’s educational and emotional wellbeing. Both workless households and lone parents in full-time employment are shown to have negative effects on young people’s emotional wellbeing; parental employment patterns and having a mother in part-time (but not full-time) employment correlate with lower truancy rates; and, interestingly, maternal employment patterns make no difference to achievement at GCSE whereas paternal unemployment has a negative effect. As expected, parents’ educational achievements correlate closely with their children’s.

In the final chapter, Cusworth concludes that ‘the evidence provided by this research tentatively supports the policy of encouraging paid work for all, including mothers, although part-time as opposed to full-time maternal employment might offer young people greater protection against poorer emotional well-being. Parental employment which guards children against the experience of household worklessness would appear to be overwhelmingly positive’ (p.195). ‘In moving away from a climate where any employment of a mother which separated her from a young child was frowned upon, there should not be a swing to a situation where full-time continuous employment is regarded as ideal or compulsory’ (p.197).

We would add to Cusworth’s list of ‘questions raised and future work’: Which feasible reforms of the tax and benefits system will incentivise ‘options for mothers (and fathers) to spend more time in the self-provision of childcare’ (p.196); and which will incentivise the flexible part-time parental employment which Cusworth’s study shows to be so important for children’s wellbeing?