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UW Study Shows Children May Benefit When Parents Work Nights

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo

If you work an evening or night shift and wonder how your work schedule is affecting your child, a University of Washington study could come as good news. The study, published in the June issue of Journal of Family Issuesfinds a beneficial impact on children in two-parent families where one parent works a non-standard shift. Researcher and University of Washington graduate student Christine Leibbrand says she became interested in  researching the effect of shift work on families because of what she’d seen firsthand. She has a sister who’s a nurse and a brother who’s a firefighter.

“They both have children and I’ve seen them and their spouses balance their schedules,” Leibbrand said. 

She says, like her siblings' jobs, a lot of professions require non-standard shifts. She wanted to know how kids adjusted when one of their parents worked evenings or nights. What she found, she says, was that such shifts had a surprisingly positive impact.

“They tended to have beneficial associations with children’s behavior, especially when children were young,” she said.

Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which has been following youth since 1979, Leibbrand analyzed parents’ work schedules against their reports of their children’s behavior.

She stressed that her study did not apply to single-parent families. She says past research has shown more behavior problems with children of single parents working non-standard schedules.

Leibbrand says the positive impact in two-parent families where a parent does shift work could be because parents working different schedules are often able to spend more time, say during the day, with their kids or schedules are such that one parent can always be home.

“There are some parents who are intentionally choosing these schedules to spend more time with children or to be with children at particularly important times of the day such as when children get home after school, allowing parents to be present in a way that is often difficult when you’re working full time," Leibbrand said.

However, she says, the positive impact was only evident when shifts were consistent. When parents work  constantly rotating schedules, it tends to have a negative impact on kids.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.