To the editors:

Harold Henderson (City File, February 20) approvingly quotes the Progressive’s critique of workfare in the absence of dependable child care and then proceeds to wonder “when [people] will make the politically incorrect discovery that it is better for children at all income levels to have a nurturant parent at home?” Mr. Henderson is apparently too busy with his own orthodoxy to mention that there is no good evidence to support his claim.

Children in quality child-care programs–the kind available to upper-income families but not to those on welfare–do as well on most measures of social adjustment and development as children whose mothers are at home full time. Susan Faludi reports on the relevant studies in her book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, and concludes by noting, “Social scientists could supply plenty of research to show that one member of the American family . . . is happier and more well-adjusted when mom stays home and minds the children. But that person is dad . . . ”

Perhaps Mr. Henderson needs to take this issue up at home.

Kelly Kleiman

N. Seminary

Harold Henderson replies:

As Ms. Kleiman implicitly acknowledges (“most measures”?!), the research on the effects of child care is not clear-cut. (Deborah Fallows deals with both research and personal experience, from an open-minded feminist perspective, in her book A Mother’s Work.) For instance, a study of preschoolers’ intellectual development, conducted by University of Illinois labor economist Francine Blau and Trinity College economist Adam J. Grossberg and released last year, found that (other things being equal) a woman who works 100 percent of the weeks during her child’s first year of life is expected to lower the child’s standardized score by about 5.8 points on a test with an average score of 100. Working 100 percent of the weeks in the second and later years, on the other hand, raised the child’s score by 4.2 points. According to the U. of I. summary, “Blau suggested that the reduced time with the mother during the first year explains the negative effects, but added that improved alternative care might counter those effects.” Translation: we don’t know.

And neither do I. My point was to highlight an irony: it is politically correct for poor parents to stay home with their young children, but not for middle-income parents to do the same thing. Unfortunately, in some circles it is even politically incorrect to suggest that some people would choose to raise their own children rather than pay someone else to do so.