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Who Is Happier, The Working Mother or the Stay-At-Home Mom?

Photo by Andrew West via Flickr

After a woman has a child, she must make a crucial decision – do I continue to work or should I stay home with the kids? There is no easy answer to this, as both sides have their pros and cons, but a new study suggests that depression is more common among those moms who choose to stay home.

Women Who Have Realistic Expectations are Happier

About 65% of the mothers of young children and 80% of women with children over age 5 are employed, according to 2006 statistics.

In a study to be presented at the American Sociological Association annual meeting, Katrina Leupp, a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle, analyzed the results from the National Longitude Survey of Youth which included data from 1,600 married US women who had children at home.

Between the ages of 22 and 30, the women were asked their opinion on such outdated statements as "A wife who carries out her full family responsibilities doesn't have time for a job outside the home"; "Women are much happier if they stay at home and take care of their children"; and "It is much better for everyone concerned if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of home and family."

Read: Stay-at-Home Mothers Most Likely To Sleep Poorly

At the age of 40, the researchers measured the women’s level of depression using such signs as difficulty concentrating, feeling lonely, sad or restless, and having trouble sleeping.

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Overall, working women, whether they were in part time or full time jobs were less likely to be depressed than those who stayed at home with the kids. The researchers point to previous studies that find that working outside the home is good for women’s mental health. They feel they have more autonomy and more control over their schedule, says Leupp.

However, those women who do return to work but have unrealistic expectations and poor work-life balance have higher depression levels.

Read: Children of Mothers Working Full Time Have Positive Outcomes

Trying to be “SuperMom” will surely lead to symptoms of burnout and depression. Leupp notes that juggling employment and family care and expecting to achieve complete success in both is not a realistic view. “Women still do the bulk of household labor and child care, even when they're employed full time," she said. But "women who go into employment expecting it to be difficult but who are accepting of that are less likely to be frustrated than women who expect things to be more equal with their partners."

Women who work should find their personal balance and delegate more tasks or even let a few things slide, says associate professor of sociology Shelley Correll (Stanford University). “Let someone with more time run the bake sale, make sure your husband is doing his share of laundry folding and limit your work hours when you can.”

Guilt about working and “not being there” for the children, is also a factor. But research shows that children in day care have better language and cognitive abilities than children who stay home and that children of working mothers have higher reading scores. Women should also understand that finding fulfillment within themselves, whether they work or stay home, is essential to a child’s psychological well-being.

Leupp stress that women should, "Be gentle with yourself and accept that balancing work and family feels hard because it is hard, rather than feeling that guilty or unsuccessful if you can't devote as much time as you would like to your job and to your family."

Source: American Sociological Association
Image Credit: Photo by Andrew West via Flickr