When single moms are laid off from their jobs, their children suffer significant harmful effects down the road as young adults, according to a new University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study published by the American Journal of Sociology.
“The findings are alarming, and they suggest we should be doing more to ensure that these children don’t get lost in the shuffle,” said lead author Dr. Jennie Brand, associate director of the research center and associate professor of sociology at UCLA. “Through no fault of their own, they appear to be paying years down the line for their mothers’ employment issues.”
For the study, researchers focused on two sets of outcomes for the children: educational achievement and social-psychological well-being. Specifically, researchers looked at whether they had graduated from high school by age 19, attended college by age 21, and graduated from college by age 25; and whether they showed symptoms of depression between the ages of 20 and 24, and between the ages of 25 and 29.
The researchers analyzed 30 years of data and compared the outcomes for children (later as young adults) whose mothers were laid off during the child’s first 17 years and children whose mothers were not laid off during that time.
The findings showed that the children of mothers who were laid off were 15 percent less likely to complete high school than children whose moms were not laid off. They also were 24 percent less likely to attend college and 33 percent less likely to graduate from college.
When children reached their late 20s, those whose mothers had lost their jobs were far more likely to suffer from depression. Interestingly, the study found no negative effects among children who were five or younger when their moms were laid off.
In fact, the negative repercussions of the mother’s job loss were strongest among older children. Those who were between the ages of 12 and 17 when the job loss occurred were 40 percent less likely to graduate from high school, 25 percent less likely to attend college, and 45 percent less likely to graduate from college, compared with children whose moms continued to stay employed.
Children whose mothers were laid off when the children were between 12 and 17 years old showed more severe depression in their 20s, but those symptoms were more pronounced in the children’s late 20s if their moms were displaced when they were ages six to 11.
A single mother’s job loss had especially negative effects on the child if the mother had an otherwise steady job history and didn’t see it coming, and if the mother was laid off during a period when the economy was strong.
The findings show that employment instability can carry from one generation to the next, Brand said. “Our study shows that the children of displaced mothers struggle educationally and psychologically for many years afterward, and thus are themselves more likely to suffer from employment instability.”