Is a child’s wellbeing affected when mum is working full-time?

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A new study which used British Household Panel Survey data has revealed that mothers should not worry about working full-time because it does not affect their children’s wellbeing.

This information comes from the report: Maternal working hours and the well-being of adolescent children by Silvia Mendolia at the University of Wollongong and IZA.

The researcher suggests that full-time employment (as opposed to part-time) has little or no effect on a teenager’s desire to smoke, their life satisfaction, self-esteem, or intention to leave school at 16. These results are stable and consistent across various specifications of the model and different socio-economic status.

The study investigated how maternal working hours are related to various outcomes in children aged 11 to 15 using a sample of mothers and adolescents in the British Household Panel Survey. The research used 13 waves of data, from 1994 to 2006.

The findings

Using the data the researcher was able to establish some break-through findings and challenge previous research that suggests children with working mothers run a higher risk of lower self-esteem or life satisfaction.

  • The evidence implies that more hours of maternal employment do not make a teenage child more likely to become a smoker or have low levels of psychological well-being.
  • Increasing maternal working hours decreases the child’s risk of leaving education at 16. Children of women who work more than 35 hours a week are actually more likely to pursue higher education.
  • Other external factors that cause children to smoke include being female, living in London and having a parent/s that smokes.

Why employment is not related to behavioural problems?

  • Working mothers may be able to spend less time in other household activities, such as cooking or cleaning, and those with flexible working schedules may be able to organise their work around their children’s school and after-school activities.
  • The positive effects of working (such as promoting child independence and being a positive role model) may offset the negative effects of her absence.
  • Other elements outside the family, such as the neighbourhood, community and school, are also likely to play a key role in determining adolescents’ behaviour and well-being.

Policy implications

“These results are an important starting point for discussing the implications of welfare policies aimed at increasing labour force participation among women, especially in disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds,” concludes Silvia Mendolia.

Media coverage

this news has been re-posted from the Understanding Society website