Working Mothers Do Not Hamper Early Childhood Development

August 4, 2010

Working parents leaving house with childAccording to The New York Times Motherlode blog, more than 60 percent of mothers work when their children are younger than six years old. Eight years ago, researchers at Columbia University told these mothers that working full-time within 12 months of giving birth would delay their child's cognitive development. Those same researchers, however, are now giving mothers a more positive outlook.

The Washington Post reported that a new child-care study, which is titled "First-Year Maternal Employment and Child Development in the First 7 Years" and is the most comprehensive study of its kind to date, found "that the overall effect of 1st-year maternal employment on child development is neutral".

Researchers examined data for 1,364 children, reported The New York Times Economix blog. In order to account for the many factors that could contribute to a child's welfare, they separated data from non-Hispanic white children and African American children. According to The Washington Post, after tracking child development and family characteristics, researchers found that infants raised by full-time working mothers scored somewhat lower on cognitive tests through the first grade. This negative effect, however, was counterbalanced by several benefits including higher family income and high quality child care. The most important finding was that working mothers displayed greater "maternal sensitivity" towards their children. "We can say now, from this study, what we couldn't say before: There's a slight risk, and here's the three things that you, Mom, can do to make a difference," said Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, lead author of the study.

Brooks-Gunn and her team also found that part-time employment had no negative effect. Working full-time after the first year also did not matter. Brooks-Gunn speculated that because full-time working mothers are away from home and child, they cannot provide "the kinds of intensive interaction that babies require".

Economix added that children of African American mothers who went back to work full-time within one year of giving birth did not show a cognitive lag when compared to children of African American mothers who stayed at home. Researchers hypothesized that African American children are "culturally more likely to be taken care of by relatives", whereas white children are more likely to be taken care of by people who are not related to them such as nannies or institutional day care providers.

Although the study did not look at the effects of working fathers, the findings are still a relief to many. "This particular research has a positive message for mothers that the earlier research didn't," said Brooks-Gunn.

Compiled by Staff


"Don't Worry, Working Moms,", August 3, 2010, Motoko Rich

"Study: Working mothers not necessarily harmful to child development,", July 31, 2010, Daniel de Vise

"Working Moms Are Fine for Kids,", August 3, 2010, Lisa Belkin

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