It’s official: children whose mothers work during their early years do just as well as those with stay-at-home moms.
Of course, this goes against the popular stereotype: when a female character divides her time between work and family, she is almost always plagued by guilt, just like Sarah Jessica Parker in “I Don’t Know How She Does It.”
But from now on, we can ignore those cultural myths: it does not harm children if their mothers go out to work when they are babies, according to research released last week in England. That’s right: an analysis of six studies looking at 40,000 children over the last 40 years found there was zero effect on children’s cognitive and literacy scores, or on their emotions and behavior, when mothers continued their careers.
From The Guardian:
Professor Heather Joshi’s research at the Institute of Education examines all the previous surveys, which are drawn from longitudinal studies over the last decades, and compares them with her own recent research. She presented her findings on Tuesday at an Academy of Social Sciences event in London, celebrating the remarkable data banks that track the lives of large cohorts of children born in 1946, 1958, 1970 and 2000.
Earlier studies have suggested that children born to career mothers in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s did not perform as well, but Joshi’s research found that children born since the mid-1990s whose mothers worked during their early years fared just as well as those whose mothers did not.
“There has traditionally been a concern that the employment of mothers comes at the expense of child development,” said Joshi who presented her findings to a meeting of policy-makers and academics organized by the Campaign for Social Science.
“But as the percentage of mothers in work has gone up, any impact on children has diminished.”
Why were modern babies, tested through to the age of five, unaffected by mothers at work? Joshi suggests there are several reasons: more maternity and paternity leave, better childcare, fathers taking on more responsibilities and flexible working hours.
Did I say better childcare? Well, of course, it’s England we are discussing here, and not the United States.
Staying with my nephew and his partner in England last week, I watched as they prepared their 3-year-old son Nye for his morning at preschool. Three and four-year-olds are currently entitled to 15 hours per week of free early education for 38 weeks a year in England.
The places can be nursery schools, children’s centers, day car nurseries, playgroups, preschool and accredited child minders. Starting in September, this will be extended to about 40 percent of two-year-olds, with an emphasis on supporting disadvantaged families. It’s not a perfect system, but definitely better than nothing.
52 Weeks Of Maternity Leave
Family leave also provides more support for working parents. Of all the industrialized nations in the world, the United States is the only one without a paid maternity leave policy. The situation is very different in England, where the law provides for 52 weeks’ maternity leave and pregnant employees are entitled to reasonable paid time off for antenatal care.
New dads are entitled to take up to two consecutive weeks’ paternity leave. This applies to people in same-sex partnerships as well as heterosexual partnerships. Even better, starting in 2015, parents (including same sex couples and adopters) will be able to convert maternity and adoption leave to shared parental leave.
Of course, it also helps to have dads who are raising their children equally with mom. Speaking of which, how come nobody questions the effect that working dads have on their children?
As Sheryl Sandberg points out in “Lean In,” the fundamental assumption for men is that they can have both a successful professional life and a fulfilling personal life, while for women it’s assumed that trying to do both is difficult at best and impossible at worst.
So this new research is very welcome news. Leaving a two-year-old at his child minder’s home was always an emotional wrench, but at least now working moms can rest assured that they are not harming their children.
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