The findings suggest childcare programs should be expanded beyond the historic focus of programs for preschool-age children to include older children who stand to gain considerably from greater adult supervision between the end of the school day and a parent's return from work, said Anna Aizer, assistant professor of economics, who led the research.
Aizer's study focused on behavioral problems among the largely unstudied school-age population because research has shown these outcomes are important predictors of success in the labor market. The data consisted of 3,726 children age 10 to 14, born to 2,161 mothers, and gathered from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth Child-Mother file since 1988. Forthcoming in the Journal of Public Economics, the study is available online by accessing "articles in press" at www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00472727
Thirty-two percent of all children in the study reported engaging in any of the four behaviors: truancy, alcohol or drug use, theft, or hurting someone. The probability of engaging in each of the behaviors decreased significantly - by at least 23 percent - when a child was supervised after school. Even within the same family, when children are supervised they are less likely to engage in each of the behaviors than an unsupervised sibling, said Aizer.
In addition to the effect of supervision, some of the child and maternal characteristics also had a significant effect on whether or not children engaged in these behaviors. Males were more likely than females to engage in the behaviors; older children were more likely than the younger members of this age group to engage in the behaviors. Also, mothers without a high school diploma were more likely than those with a high school diploma to have children who engaged in any of the behaviors.
The findings controlled for unobserved family or maternal characteristics that may be correlated with child behavior, such as parental permissiveness.
In this study, 25 percent of all children age 10 to 14 reported that an adult was not usually present when they returned from school. Previous research has found that employed parents use a variety of after-school childcare arrangements for children age 5 to 14, the most common of which is in-home care by a non-parent.
The demand for after-school childcare has increased with the number women working outside of the home. Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that 78 percent of women with school-age children were in the labor force in 1999, compared to 33 percent in 1950.
In addition, the number of single mothers who work recently increased as a result of state welfare reform efforts that began in the mid-90s. Between 1994 and 1998, welfare caseloads dropped by 48 percent, and the proportion of unmarried female family heads with dependent children rose from 66 to 78 percent, further increasing the need for childcare among low-income families.
The study was supported by the Social Science Research Council's Program in Applied Economics.