Working Moms Aren't Bad for Babies

Cristen Conger

Working mothers of the world, rejoice. A recent comprehensive study found that your return to the workforce isn't, in fact, the worst thing for your child other toys drenched in lead-based paint. Following more than 1,000 babies through their first seven years, the researchers from Columbia University and Teachers College in London concluded that the additional resources working mothers bring home have a positive net effect on children. In other words, more income translates to higher quality care, which translates to higher academic performance.

This slightly contradicts findings from a 2002 study on maternal employment and child development conducted by some of the same investigators. In examining the effect on the first three years of life, working mothers correlated with poorer cognitive development, as evidenced by lower Bracken School Readiness scores. There are also a host of additional studies supporting the theory that the new mom working is bad for baby. This one calls it "detrimental" to go back in the first year. A 2008 Unicef study termed it "a gamble", the Guardian reports.

Ah, but here's the rub with the newest study: "Waldfogel added that part-time work, up to 30 hours a week, provides more desirable outcomes than full-time employment." So it's fine for new mothers to head back to work, but less is more in terms of child development outcomes? I'm not saying that this is bad news necessarily; children require plenty of parental time and attention to get the best start in this crazy ol' world. Yet again, the research indicates that mom will have to choose between career and childcare, and if everything doesn't go swimmingly, it's also mom's shortcomings to blame.

Gender politics aside, this finding jives with statistics in a recent Social Trends survey from the Pew Center. In detailing the life of today's working mother (the "harried life", as Pew refers to it), the data showed that 62 percent of working mothers would prefer to clock in part-time, rather than full-time. Working fathers? Only 21 percent would opt for part-time. Despite the stress that comes with being a working moms, the Pew research doesn't paint them as unhappier than the rest of us, however. Amid the societal finger-pointing and disconcerting study findings pointed directly at women who choose to reenter the workforce soon after giving birth, they're just as "very happy" as moms who elect to stay at home. And surely, a happier mom predicts a happier baby.

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