To Work or Not to Work, Mom?

Part time working moms often happier and healthier

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) New mothers trying to decide whether to work or stay home with their children may find they actually can get the best of both worlds when they work part-time, according to a ten-year study.

Mothers who work part-time reported fewer symptoms of depression and better health than mothers who were not employed outside the home until their children entered school.

Part-time working mothers also reported less family-work conflict, provided more learning opportunities to their children and were more involved in their children’s school activities than mothers employed full-time.

"Part-time work for mothers can be a healthy option."

Lead author Cheryl Buehler, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said the study, which concluded this year, revealed that maternal well-being was often higher among part-time working moms than moms who worked full-time or did not work outside the home at all.

At many points in the study, however, the data revealed no difference between the well-being of mothers working part-time and those working full-time.

“In many cases, mothers who work part-time reap the benefits of both worlds,” said dailyRx expert LuAnn Pierce, a licensed clinical social worker. “Work provides a necessary mental, emotional and social outlet for many women who derive satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment from their contributions at work.”

But, she adds, with fewer working hours, “part-time work may offer the benefits without all the costs.”

There was also no difference in school involvement between part-time working mothers and non-employed mothers, but mothers who worked part-time provided their children with more opportunities for learning than both the other groups.

The study defined part-time work as working one to 32 hours outside the home. Approximately 25 percent of all women work part-time schedules, according to 2009 Department of Labor statistics.

Pierce said that many mothers may not have the option of working part-time or staying home because of financial reasons.

This study offers good news then: mothers working full-time did not exhibit depressive symptoms at any different rate than those working part-time, who showed fewer symptoms of depression than their non-employed counterparts up until the children entered school.

“Mothering is demanding, but it has long been believed that a mother who feels balanced and gets her need for mastery and achievement met is probably healthier and happier,” Pierce said.

The study is based on interviews with 1,364 women from ten U.S. cities, including cities from the east and west coasts and the Midwest. Mothers were first interviewed when their children were one-month old, following by interviews or observations when their children were aged six months, 15 months, three years and four and a half years.

Researchers then followed up when the children were in first, third and fifth grade. A quarter of the mothers were ethnic minorities, one tenth did not complete high school and 14 percent were single mothers.

Among the factors studied were the quality of intimacy between the parents, the occurrence of work-family conflict, mental health, self-reported physical health and three aspects of parenting: sensitivity to their children, providing children with learning opportunities and school involvement.

The observational study appears in the December issue of the APA’s Journal of Family Psychology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 13, 2011
Last Updated:
December 15, 2011