Children of Mothers Working Full Time Have Positive Outcomes
Many women, when faced with the decision on whether to work or not after the birth of a child, feel guilty for choosing to go back to work. Some research has not been favorable toward women who either need to or want to return to the workforce. But a new study, conducted at Columbia University should give all working mothers a sigh of relief – mothers who go back to work full time within a year of giving birth did not do any damage to their children’s well-being.
Overall Effect of Maternal Employment on Child Development is Neutral
The study, called "First-Year Maternal Employment and Child Development in the First 7 Years", was conducted by three Columbia professors: Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a child development specialist; Wen-Jui Han, an associate professor of social work; and Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work and public affairs.
The professors tracked the development and family characteristics of more than 1000 children seven and under from 10 different parts in the US who were a part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care. In addition to family relationships and household income, they assessed each child’s vocabulary, reading ability and academic test scores. Teachers and parents provided information on the child’s behavior.
Infants raised by mothers with full-time jobs scored somewhat lower on cognitive tests and the deficits persisted into the first grade. But that negative effect was offset by several positive factors.
Overall, the researchers found that working mothers had better mental health, were able to build healthier relationships within the family and boosted the household income – all of which aided the child’s development. They were also more likely to have higher-quality childcare outside the home, benefiting the children further.
Working mothers also showed greater “maternal sensitivity”, or responsiveness toward their children, than stay-at-home moms.
Children whose mothers worked under 30 hours a week benefited the most because they benefited from the positive aspects without losing out on parental attention and interaction. In some instances, children of mothers who worked part time during the first year were less likely to develop behavioral problems.
Professor Waldfogel said, “The findings reflect what I think many working mothers would say, which is that they have balanced all the different considerations and they feel that they are doing the best thing for their families overall.”