Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work and Social Research


Over the past forty years, substantial attention has been paid to the personal and social changes accompanying increased labor force participation by women. Essential to the changing gender composition of the workforce is the rise of nonmaternal care-work, primarily for young children. Despite its pivotal role in securing a reliable and available workforce, this shift in the burden of caretaking responsibility has occurred largely outside the public eye. Thus, when child care breaks down and disrupts paid work, the failure is private and personal, rather than public and social.

I argue that a more productive framing may emerge when the private and the public, the person and the place, are held in tension, as when women are seen as making caregiving choices within broader social and political contexts. Using a sample of mother-child dyads from eighteen large U.S. cities, this study examines factors associated with child care instability, with attention to the local structural and state policy contexts within which women must simultaneously fulfill both their caretaking and money-making responsibilities.I find that individual factors, including type of child care setting and levels of perceived support and community engagement, are strongly associated with child care instability. Though findings for local structural and state policy contexts are both weaker and less consistent than those for individual-level effects, they are in the anticipated direction. Together, these findings suggest the importance of continued research that recognizes the embeddedness of individual characteristics and concerns in broader social and political contexts.


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