Moms who feel guilty about going back to work can give themselves a break—a new study suggests their kids may do better once they start kindergarten than children of women who stayed home.
The effects are strongest for low-income kids. And in wealthy families, the older wisdom may hold true—the kids of working moms did not fare as well as children of at-home moms.
It's only one study, and it contradicts a large body of older work. But the researchers, at Boston University, say it's one of the first to look at 21st-century moms and kids.
"Moms going back to work when children are still babies may affect the children differently in contemporary society because there are so many more working women today with greater responsibility for their families' income," said Caitlin McPherran Lombardi of Boston College, who led the study. "Different cultural attitudes, more readily available and higher-quality child care and more fathers participating in childrearing are other possible reasons for the difference."
Lombardi and colleagues looked at data from a survey that started with 10,000 children born in the year 2001. Moms reported whether they had jobs, either fulltime or parttime, when the babies were 9 months old and again at age 2. Then the children were tested when they entered kindergarten, and their teachers were surveyed.
About a third—31 percent—of the mothers said they were not working for pay for the first two years of the child's life. Another 11 percent took jobs or started back to work when the kids were ages 9 months to 2 years, while 58 percent went back to work before the baby was 9 months old.