From Bonnie Rochman:
Despite the juggling act required to hold down a job and care for children, moms who work report they’re healthier and happier than moms who stay at home when their kids are babies and preschoolers.
What’s more, women who worked part-time fared the best, trumping the stay-at-home crowd and, in some cases, full-timers, on measures of health and stress, according to a study that appears in December’s Journal of Family Psychology….
Buehler was particularly interested in looking at part-time work because it hasn’t been studied much. She concluded that it’s a distinct work status, albeit one that employers too often don’t take seriously enough. “The data shows that part-time employment helps family life,” says Buehler, who says that’s one reason why employers should encourage their part-time employees by offering pro-rated benefits, training and opportunities for advancement.
Buehler and colleagues looked at data collected by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, which interviewed 1,364 mothers beginning in 1991 when their babies were 6 months old. Over the course of 10 years, they checked back in with the moms seven times, culminating when their children were fifth-graders.
Buehler compared non-working moms to those who worked part-time (an extremely broad category defined as between 1 and 32 hours a week) or full-time (more than 32 hours a week). “In a lot of areas, there was no difference in emotional well-being” between full- and part-timers, says Buehler.
In general, part-time working moms reported less work-family conflict than full-time working moms, which aligns with previous research. Of course, it stands to reason that a mom who works one hour a week may be under far less pressure to balance work and family than one who works 32. But while full-time workers reported more work-family conflict, they were apparently able to cope well with the increased stress: they didn’t indicate more depression or worse health than part-timers. “It’s not translating into lower well-being,” says Buehler.
The most significant differences arose when comparing moms who weren’t employed to those who worked part-time. The part-timers were less depressed, had better health, were more sensitive to their children and were better able to provide them with learning opportunities. That may be a function of employment, which improves people’s social skills and increases awareness of what’s going on in the community. “Maybe that translates to the experience they bring to their children,” says Buehler.