Working Mothers Are Healthier (STUDY)

A new study finds that women who work at least part time are happier and healthier than those who stay home with their kids.A new study finds that women who work at least part time are happier and healthier than those who stay home with …Moms who work at least part time are healthier and happier than those who decide to stay home with their babies, a new study suggests.

Why being a work-at-home mother isn't easy

According to the study, "Mothers' part-time employment: Associations with mother and family well-being" (which was published recently in the American Psychological Association's "Journal of Family Psychology"), being employed has multiple benefits for moms -- and for their families. After interviewing hundreds of mothers repeatedly over the course of a decade, the researchers found that those who worked 32 hours per week or less were more sensitive to their kids' needs, less likely to have symptoms of depression, and more likely to split household duties with their spouses than mothers who were not employed. And, the researchers found, even going to full-time status didn't adversely affect working moms' well-being.

"In all cases with significant differences in maternal well-being, such as conflict between work and family or parenting, the comparison favored part-time work over full-time or not working," the study's lead author, Cheryl Buehler, professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said in a statement. "However, in many cases the well-being of moms working part time was no different from moms working full time."

The researchers interviewed 1,364 moms with 1-month-old infants in 1991, and then observed the women and their kids for the next 10 years, checking in on them when the children were 6 months old, 15 months old, 3 years old, 4 and a half years old, and in first, third, and fifth grades. The families -- from Arkansas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, North Carolina, and Wisconsin -- were from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds and included single parents, college graduates, and high-school drop-outs.

Buehler and her UNC-Greensboro colleague, Marion O'Brien, were surprised to find that the working mothers experienced better work-life balance and fewer incidents of depression when their kids were infants and pre-schoolers. "It also may be that mothers who are home with children all day experience greater child-related stress which is relieved to some extent once children are in school," they theorized. "Additionally, mothers with higher levels of depressive symptoms may have more difficulty seeking employment or keeping a job."

The benefit was evident even when mothers worked just a few hours per week. "For whatever reason, part-time employment during children's early years appears to be a positive factor in mothers' individual well-being," the researchers found. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 26.6 percent of women held part-time jobs in 2010.

Buehler and O'Brien also found that moms who work part-time were just as involved in their child's school activities as stay-at-home moms and offered their toddlers more learning opportunities at home than both stay-at-home moms and moms who work full-time.

"Theoretically, an ecological framework suggests that a mother's participation in employment provides her with support and resources that a mother who spends full time at home does not receive," Buehler and O'Brien wrote in their study. "These external resources then contribute to mothers' personal well-being."

The study did not look at how having more than one child could affect a woman's stress levels or work opportunities, and while the researchers focused on the number of hours a woman worked, they did not take into account other issues working moms typically face, like commutes, type of career, how many hours they'd prefer to work, or scheduling issues.

But while work-life balance did get worse when mothers worked full-time, "the higher levels of conflict between work and family reported by mothers employed full-time were not reflected in higher levels of depressive symptoms in this group," the researchers concluded. "It may be employment in general rather than the number of work hours that protects against depressed mood when children are young."

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