Some people, including feminists, say that if women are going to work outside of their homes that we should make sure there is enough daycare available so that children can be watched by qualified professionals. Some insist that this goes beyond merely making the logistics easier for working parents, but will save children from being raised by young, uneducated mothers who are so often their own worst critics and themselves semi-literate recipients of government “benefits” in one form or another. Well-meaning but misguided policies can either force women back to work too quickly or discourage them from working at all. When government agencies encourage new mothers to work, they often do not account for the toll the stress of balancing a career and children has on the family. Likewise, companies that encourage women to return to work soon after giving birth do not factor in the mother’s own reluctance to leave her newborn.
However, one of the most startling comments I heard about working mothers was from my friend who is an adopted child. She said that all of her other friends from adoption agencies turned out to be working mothers. Most children born into families end up growing up in homes where the mother and father both hold full-time jobs outside of the home while doing their best to care for their children, a quite challenging task in itself. A working mom means a financially independent mom who opens her options which in the modern world is somehow a must. There are many advantages of having an employed mother and fewer disadvantages. Children with working mothers are more likely to see themselves as successful in their careers and more likely to be financially secure later in life.
It is true that children whose mothers worked grew up to exhibit slightly more prosocial behaviors in the family, and tended to earn higher annual incomes when they were adults. They also ended up reporting slightly higher levels of overall satisfaction with their lives. So it’s not surprising that some researchers have concluded that working motherhood is a net boon for society. Working mothers are more likely to serve as role models for their daughters, and also tend to have higher income, which increases the likelihood that the child will have a higher income in adulthood. Maternal employment also tends to raise the educational expectations of children, and increase their tolerance for gender discrimination and sexual harassment.
Some mothers who work also maintain full-time child care, while others rely on part-time help or services they oversee themselves. We can’t distinguish between these in the data, but like any well-made survey, it does allow us to tease out different effects for infants, preschoolers, and school-aged children. The changing relationship between employment and motherhood is a relatively new problem, and the solutions developed are still being worked out. Recent data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth show that mothers with babies, particularly younger ones were less likely to return to work if they didn’t have access to high-quality childcare.