So Much for Conventional Wisdom: Children Benefit from Having Working Moms

When my sons were toddlers and I went back to work, my father warned: “You’ll regret this decision when your children are teens and exhibit all sorts of problems.”Despite my father’s ominous prediction, my sons weren’t troubled teens. In fact, they’ve grown up to be well-rounded and successful young men, each with three kids of his own. One son is an associate professor and director of the rheumatology clinic at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. My other son is the founder and CEO of Newsela, an online newspaper for elementary, middle school, and high school students.Today, nearly three-quarters of American mothers work, yet many people still believe that children would be better off if Mom stayed at home. According to a 2007 Pew Research Center study, 41 percent of American adults think that women working outside the home is bad for society, and 41 percent of adults believe that having a stay-at-home mother presents more advantages for children than having a working mother. A nearly identical proportion, 41 percent, think a mother working part-time is ideal, and just 9 percent believe a mother working full-time is an ideal situation for children.However, recent studies suggest that, contrary to the conventional wisdom, there are economic, social, and educational benefits for children of working mothers. A 2010 meta-analysis examined 69 studies on the effects of maternal employment and found that children with working mothers are less likely to suffer from learning disabilities, behavioral and social problems, depression, and anxiety. Those children are also more likely to be high achievers in the classroom.The effects of maternal employment are also evident in adult children. A 2015 Harvard Business School study of 50,000 adults in 25 countries found that women whose mothers worked outside the home are more likely to have their own jobs and more likely to hold supervisory responsibilities at those jobs. They also earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed at home (23 percent more). . Men raised by working mothers were more likely to contribute to household chores and more likely to spend time caring for family members.So, not only was my father wrong, but my sons are glad I didn’t heed his warning. When they were teens, I asked my sons if they’d have preferred my being a stay-at-home mom. “No!” they replied emphatically. “Then you’d have been into our lives more than you already were!”