Research: Working moms boost kids’ success

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Career ambitions aside, gone are the days when one average income could support a family. Thatís probably why 70 percent of women with kids under 18 work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

How does that affect children? Are kids with two working parents significantly different from kids with stay-at-home moms?

Not a lot, according to overall research so far.

Higher earning potential. And in some ways, they may have an advantage: Higher incomes when they grow up and start earning. A joint Harvard-UK study of 100,000 people in 29 countries reported in 2018 found that daughters raised by working moms are more likely to be employed and have higher incomes as adults.

Sons vs. daughters. The same study found the working momsí daughters were also more likely to work longer hours and supervise others as adults. Thatís different for boys, apparently. They found no effect on sonsí future employment, but sons of working moms were more likely to help out with their own families and housework when they became adults.

Those outcomes are due, said the researchers, to more egalitarian gender attitudes conveyed by working mothers. Kids of working moms also learn to manage employment and domestic responsibilities simultaneously ó important life skills.

Time: Quality over quantity. A 2014 study found that while the obvious is true of employed moms ó they spend less time with kids ó itís also true that the time they do spend is more likely to be quality time. The joint Queens College, New York-University of St. Gallen, Switzerland team found that working mothers tend to trade quantity of hours for better quality. Full-time employed moms spent 3.2 fewer hours doing ďunstructured activitiesĒ ó activities which donít require families to be actively engaged and speaking to one another ó compared to kids whose moms are unemployed.

The same study also found children with college-educated moms spend more time on educational activities. College-educated mothers and their partners spend 4.9 hours per week doing educational activities with their children. By comparison, mothers with less education spend only 3.3 hours weekly in educational activities.

Better cognitive development. That focused educational and structured time probably explains why the 2014 study concluded maternal employment generally has a positive effect on childrenís cognitive development.

Higher GPAs. A 2013 study led by Cornell University researchers asked whether working moms improve childrenís academic achievement. Using data from 135,000 kids born in Denmark and followed through ninth grade, they found the kids whose moms worked had higher grade point averages at age 15 than did children whose mothers didnít work.

But (a little) less is more. All that sounds good, but there is a limit to benefits. In the 2013 Danish study, children whose mothers worked between 10 and 19 hours a week had better grades than kids whose mothers worked full-time or only a few hours per week.

Thatís supported by a 2010 metastudy (an analysis of data from 69 prior studies) by UC-Irvine researchers who found that overall, early maternal employment isnít commonly associated with lower academic performance or behavior problems.

So if youíre a working mom, try not to fret. Odds are good the kids will be just fine.

• ē ē

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist with the Hagadone News Network. Email:

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