The latest wrinkle in the Mommy Wars? Babies raised by working mothers may receive more positive benefits than negative ones, according to data from one of the most comprehensive childcare studies to date.
As highlighted in a July 31, 2010, Washington Post piece, researchers from Columbia University followed more than 1,000 children from 10 geographic areas through first grade, tracking their development and family characteristics. The study found that infants raised by mothers with full-time jobs scored, on average, somewhat lower on cognitive tests, deficits that persisted into first grade. But this negative was offset by three strong positives. As researchers note that working mothers had higher incomes, they were more likely to seek high-quality childcare, and they displayed greater "maternal sensitivity," or responsiveness toward their children, compared to stay-at-home mothers.
"We can say now, from this study, what we couldn't say before: There's a slight risk [for cognitive delays], and here's the three things that you, Mom, can do to make a difference," says Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, the study's lead author, in an interview with the Washington Post.
According to researchers, the study also reaffirmed that part-time employment had no negative effect, nor did it seem to matter for a child's cognitive development whether a mother worked full time after the first year.
The link between cognitive development and working outside the home? Researchers believe that mothers with full-time jobs find it more challenging to provide an infant with "the kinds of intensive interaction that babies require," says Brooks-Gunn. High-quality childcare appears to offset this, but according to Brooks-Gun, high-quality childcare, too, is hard to find for an infant.