How children lose when parents have a ‘non-standard’ work schedule

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute illuminates the toll taken by unpredictable work schedules.
A new report from the Economic Policy Institute illuminates the toll taken by unpredictable work schedules. –Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Even working a strict 9-to-5 schedule can make taking care of young children difficult. But when parents have a schedule that is different every week, or even every day, it has an outsized impact on children, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

In a policy brief, the EPI summarizes the research into non-standard work shifts, defined as “non-daytime shifts in which most hours do not fall between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., when shifts rotate, or when schedules vary weekly or otherwise.’’

Maybe not so surprisingly, most research finds that working odd hours negatively affects how a parent can care for his or her children. Children of parents who work non-standard hours are “more likely to have inferior cognitive and behavioral outcomes,’’ according to the report.

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Toddlers who have mothers working unpredictable schedules even “demonstrate worse sensory perception, memory, learning, problem solving, verbal communication, and expressive language.’’ Those patterns appear to be longstanding, as teenagers whose parents work nights are “more likely to engage in risky behavior (smoking, alcohol use, delinquency, sexual activity), and are more likely to be depressed.’’

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The EPI blames new computer software, which can predict costumer demand with hour-by-hour precision, for making such work more common, but, as The New York Times reports, some companies are already working to change this culture. According to the Times, Abercrombie & Fitch just last week stopped requiring workers to be on call, as has Williams-Sonoma, and Gap “has scaled back the practice.’’

The Washington Post conducted a poll that showed more than three-quarters of mothers and half of fathers in the U.S. have “passed up work opportunities, switched jobs or quit to tend to their kids.’’

Kids are not the only ones negatively affected by tough job schedules, according to the EPI study, as “parents with non-standard hours are more tired, anxious, irritable, and stressed, making children’s delinquency, aggression, and other negative behaviors more likely.’’

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