A new study has sparked a number of conversations on mom blogs around the country because of the controversial conclusions that working moms are happier. The study’s results were published in a Journal of Family Psychology article entitled “Mothers’ Part-Time Employment: Associations With Mother and Family Well-Being,” by Cheryl Buehler, PhD., and Marion O’Brien, PhD, both of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
The study collected data from more than 1,300 mothers from 10 different U.S. locations. It took place over a period of ten years (1991-2001) beginning shortly after the birth of each mother’s child. The participants came from a variety of backgrounds: one-fourth of the participants were ethnic minorities and 14 percent were single moms. The study was designed to measure maternal well-being. The results revealed that moms who work part-time or full-time outside of the home during their child’s infancy and toddler years were happier and had stronger feelings of well-being than stay-at-home moms. Additionally, moms who worked outside of the home were healthier and happier overall.
While the results revealed that part-time workers were the happiest, full-time workers (even those who struggled with conflicting demands) were still happier than moms who did not work outside the home. In fact, there were no measurable differences between part-time working moms and full-time working moms with regard to health and depression, but both groups reported significantly less symptoms of depression and better overall health than their stay-at-home counterparts.
Even when employer support of the woman’s motherhood was not clear, the benefits of working outside the home remained, and the working women even reported that they felt working made them better parents. According to the study, part-time working moms were equally as involved with the school activities of their children as stay-at-home moms, and more involved in school related activities than full-time working moms. The study also revealed that moms who were working part-time had more sensitivity toward their toddler-aged children than both stay-at home-moms and full-time working moms.
Study co-author Marion O’Brien explained that the study provided guidance that could be used to benefit companies: “Since part-time work seems to contribute to the strength and well-being of families, it would be beneficial to employers if they provide fringe benefits, at least proportionally, to part-time employees as well as offer them career ladders through training and promotion.”
The study was limited in scope because it included only one child regardless of how many the mother subsequently had, and it did not account for other factors that may have played a role, such as the type and scope of the mother’s employment and professional status, the level of scheduling flexibility offered by the employer, the commitment of the mother to the work, and whether or not the mother was required to work shifts.