Good news for working parents: according to a new study from Norway, putting kids in day care doesn’t make them more aggressive. Starting the 1980s, as more and more middle-class women in Europe and North America started working outside the home, a number of studies showed that putting children in day care made them more aggressive. But at least as many studies since then have said this wasn’t true.
This newest study followed almost 1,000 children, aged six months to 4 years, and found that day care did not make them more aggressive. In fact, some kids who were more aggressive around the age of two became less aggressive over time while in day care.
Some of the old studies may have been stepped in a social backlash against changing gender norms and women increasingly working, and succeeding, outside of the home. Despite the fact that women from poorer families had been consistently working outside the home, these changes seemed shocking to many people. But the idea that allowing children to be raised in part by people other than their biological parents (and really, just their mothers) or spending time with other children might make them aggressive doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
Humans are, and always have been, social creatures. It’s that sociability that allowed us to survive long enough to develop the tools and language that kept us going, despite having few natural defenses against predators. Aggression has its uses in human society, but baseline aggressiveness against everyone outside of your own family unit, and even within that unit, would never have been useful. It would have been discarded as those people either didn’t survive or didn’t breed in early human societies. Early child development is complicated, and there’s still a lot to study, but the idea that socializing children early makes them anti-social doesn’t seem to have a very solid foundation.