Working moms may have just a scored a key victory in the Mommy Wars, according to a review of over 50 years of research that finds children whose mothers work outside the home turn out (drum roll) ... just fine. Published October 4, 2010, in an online edition of the Psychological Bulletin, the analysis looked at studies where mother had returned to work, either part-time or full time, within three years of giving birth.
The results? Looking at various research over a five-decade span, mothers who return to work before their children turn 3 years old are no more likely to have a child with academic or behavioral problems than mothers who opt to stay at home.
"Overall, I think this shows women who go back to work soon after they have their children should not be too concerned about the effects their employment has on their children's long-term well-being," says psychologist Dr. Rachel Lucas-Thompson, lead author of the study conducted with Drs. JoAnn Prause and Wendy Goldberg at the University of California, Irvine.
Trying to make the emotionally-charged decision of whether or not to return to work? For some families, having a mom on the job is actually better for children. As the research review revealed, children from single-parent or low-income families whose mothers worked had better academic and intelligence scores and fewer behavioral problems than children whose mothers did not work. This was probably due in part to increased resources that the income afforded, the study authors note.
But for a small number of children in middle- and upper-class families (with two parents), researchers did note slight decreases in achievement and increases in behavior problems later on, especially if the mother went back to work full time during the first year of the child's life.
"This suggests that families who are not struggling financially may not see as many benefits of maternal employment on very young children. For these families, it's possible that alternate care arrangements may not be as emotionally supportive as the child's mother," researchers conclude.