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Unmarried Mothers and Children’s Social-Emotional Development: The Role of Child Development Accounts

Research has established a negative association between single motherhood and child social-emotional development. This study examines whether Child Development Accounts, an economic intervention that encourages families to accumulate assets for children’s long-term development, buffer the association between single motherhood and child well-being and reduce social-emotional development disparities between children of unmarried and married mothers. The study analyzes data from a policy experiment of Child Development Accounts in Oklahoma, USA, which randomly selected a group of Oklahoma infants born in 2007 and randomly assigned their mothers to the treatment or control group. The intervention provides to the treatment group a Child Development Account built on the existing Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan with additional financial incentives and information. The analytic sample includes 1,072 children in the treatment group and 1,049 in the control group. Children’s social-emotional development is measured by mothers’ reports of a shortened version of the Ages and Stages Questionnaire in the 2011 follow-up survey when these children were about age 4. Findings suggest that Child Development Accounts have significantly positive effects on social-emotional development for children living with unmarried mothers and eliminate the disparity in social-emotional development between the children of single mothers and those of married mothers. The study considers the implications of using such asset-building initiatives to improve child development.

Citation

Huang, J., Kim, Y., Sherraden, M., & Clancy, M. M. (2017). Unmarried mothers and children’s social-emotional development: The role of Child Development Accounts. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(1), 234–247. doi:10.1007/s10826-016-0551-1