Publication Date

2012-11-22

Availability

Open access

Embargo Period

2012-11-22

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Department

Economics (Business)

Date of Defense

2012-07-31

First Committee Member

Carlos Flores

Second Committee Member

Laura Giuliano

Third Committee Member

Santos Manuel

Fourth Committee Member

Michael French

Abstract

Human capital development, including both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, at early childhood can have large long-term impacts not only on individual labor market outcomes and socio-economic success but also on economic growth. Studies suggest that parents, especially mothers in single-parent and low-income families, play an important role in developing the skills of their children at different stages of childhood. However, children from disadvantaged environments face many risk factors, such as poverty, parental health problems, and limited parental education. In particular, maternal depression is an “adverse early environment” for child development and is negatively associated with the quality of parenting practices and mother-child relationship. In turn, the lower quality of parenting practices and mother-child relationship might harm children’s development. This thesis examines the effect of maternal depression on pre-school children’s development in terms of their cognitive abilities and behavioral problems by using longitudinal data from the Fragile Family and Child Well-being Study (FFCWS). By using a family (child-mother) fixed effects (FE) model, we provide new evidence to the literature that maternal depression imposes a big risk for child development in fragile families, which are mainly those unwed parents and their non-marital childbearing. Specifically, maternal depression tends to reduce standardized Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) score by about 16.4 percent of a standard deviation. We also find that maternal depression has a similar adverse effect within non-marital families, but the effect gets more adverse (about 18.5 percent of a standard deviation) within non-marital families with higher poverty level. In addition, we find that maternal depression has a much larger adverse effect on girls (about 23.2 percent of a standard deviation), as well as children whose mothers have an education level of high school or above (about 24.4 percent of a standard deviation). Regarding child’s behaviors, maternal depression tends to increase of the child’s Anxiety/Depression problems from ages three to five. Specifically, maternal depression tends to increase the Anxiety/Depression Index, on average, by about 20.9 percent of a standard deviation. We also find that maternal depression has a much larger adverse effect (about 31.3% of a standard deviation) on children from households living below the Local Poverty Line (LPL). In addition, we find that maternal depression has a moderately large effect on Black children (about 36.4 percent of a standard deviation), as well as girls (about 30.7 percent of a standard deviation). We find no evidence that maternal depression affects contemporaneous child’s Withdrawal behavior, but find weak evidence that maternal depression affects child’s Aggression behavior as a whole. The findings in our study have important implications regarding public policies for dealing with the problem of maternal depression and child development within fragile families.

Keywords

Fragile Familes; Maternal Depresssion; PPVT; Fixed Effects; Children's Cognitive Development; Children's Behavior Problems.

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