Gains of being employed outweigh disadvantages
A ground-breaking study has found
that mothers can go back to work months after the birth of their child without
the baby’s well-being suffering as a result.
By assessing the total impact on a
child of the mother going out to work, including factors outside the home,
American academics claim to have produced the first full picture of the effect
of maternal employment on child cognitive and social development. Their
conclusion will provide comfort for thousands of women who re-enter the
employment market within a year of giving birth.
“The good news is that we can see
no adverse effects,” said American academic Jane Waldfogel, a visiting
professor at the London School of Economics. “This research is unique because
the question we have always asked in the past has been: ‘If everything else
remains constant, what is the effect of a mum going off to work?’ But of course
everything else doesn’t stay constant, so it’s an artificial way of looking at
“Family relationships, family
income, the mental health of the mother all change when a mother is working and
so what we did was to look at the full impact, taking all of these things into
In one of the most fraught areas of
social policy and research, several studies over the past two decades have
suggested that children do worse if their mothers go back to work in the first
year of their lives.
The Pew Research Centre in
Washington found high levels of anxiety among women over the issue.
The new study, led by New York’s
Columbia University School of Social Work, was published last week by the
Society for Research in Child Development. The National Institute of Child
Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care followed more than 1,000
children from 10 geographic areas up to age seven, tracking their development
and family characteristics.
It found that, while there are
downsides to mothers taking work during their child’s first year, there were
also significant advantages – an increase in mothers’ income and wellbeing, and
a greater likelihood that children receive high-quality child care. Taking
everything into account, the researchers said, the net effect was neutral.
“The effect of the parenting itself
is the key factor,” said Ms Waldfogel. “It is hugely important how sensitive
you are to your child’s needs. Even for women who have to work more than 30
hours a week, they can make things better for themselves, they just need to
take a deep breath on the doorstep, dump all the office worries behind them and
go in the door prepared to pay attention to all their children’s cues. This is
good news for all mothers.
“I’m actually delighted to have
been able to disprove earlier studies. We just had to ask some different
questions and this approach of looking at the whole picture is definitely the
right question to be looking at.
“This is especially good news for
US mothers, who typically go back to work after three months because of the
lack of maternity leave, but it equally will apply to the typical British