Many working mothers feel guilty about not spending all their time caring for their children, even if they work because of economic necessity. The guilt is compounded if the message they get from their family and society is that by working they may be harming their children’s wellbeing. So it may come as surprisingly good news to working moms that a study from Harvard University suggests the opposite. It found that working mothers may in fact provide economic, educational and social benefits to their children.
Most of the benefits of having a working mother fall on daughters, either directly or indirectly. According to an article in the New York Times, the study found that women who had a working mother completed more years of study, were more likely to work themselves, earn higher salaries and hold a supervisory role at work than women who did not have a working mother. Married men who had a working mother were likely to spend more time caring for family members and doing housework than men whose mothers did not work, which is an indirect benefit to women. Working was defined as being employed outside of the home.
The results do not mean that children do not need time with their parents, but as other studies have pointed out, what seems to matter is quality over quantity.
The study was based on data gathered from 24,000 people in 24 countries, according to the Harvard Business School’s Web site. However, it has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the differences in outcomes weren’t always that large.
At least one researcher is skeptical of the findings. Raquel Fernandez, an economics professor at New York University who was not involved with the Harvard study but who has also studied the topic said, “The problem is we don’t know how these mothers differed. Was it really her mother working who did this, or was it her mother getting an education?”
However, even if the benefits are not great and the cause not well defined, looked at another way, the study shows that children of working mothers were not worse off, as many people fear and claim. For example, an article in The Times of India made the point that children whose parents both worked were less anchored, more isolated and more prone to slip-ups concerning school work, based on the opinions of two educators. On the other hand, 50 years of research in the US, where many people hold the opinion that mothers should stay at home, has found that children of working mothers had no social or behavioural problems, were high academic achievers and had fewer mental health issues.
Going back to the benefits, the Harvard study found, like other studies, including one by Fernandez, that on average men who had a working mother for a role model married women who worked and were more supportive of their spouses working. Researchers in India state that a husband’s support is one of the major contributors to a woman achieving a satisfying work-life balance.
So, for a woman who wants to get married and also work, in the words of Fernandez, “the best way you might find a supportive environment for that is to marry a man whose mother worked.”
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