July 21, 2011 -- Kids whose moms work outside the home are no more likely to have behavioral or emotional problems at age 5 than kids whose moms stayed at home, a study shows.
The study is published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
In 2010, about 64% of American moms with kids under age 6 worked out side of the home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We don't see detrimental effects on children's behavior with maternal employment," says study researcher Anne McMunn, PhD, a senior research fellow at University College London.
Living with two working parents seems to be best for kids, and this effect was apparent even after researchers took into account the mothers' education level and household income.
Girls may even fare worse if their moms stay at home. Girls whose moms weren't working at all in the first five years of their life were twice as likely to have behavioral problems at age 5, the study showed.
"Working mothers should not feel guilty that this will have any impact on the social, emotional, or behavioral development of their children and if anything, they may be doing a service in terms of increased income and some positive effect for girls," McMunn says.
The new study analyzed data on parental employment when children were infants, 3 years old, and 5 years old. The researchers compared this information with social and emotional behavior at age 3 and 5 to see if the mothers' work status had an effect on risk for problems later on.
The study took place in the U.K., but these findings are likely to apply to the U.S., McMunn says.
Caregiver Choice Plays Important Role
Charles Shubin, MD, medical director of the Children's Health Center of Mercy Family Care in Baltimore and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland, also in Baltimore, says that caregiver choice plays a big role in how children are affected by their parents' work status.
"You can't just dump the kid," he says. "You still have to connect with your kids. You need to be involved in your kids' lives and they need to know you. If the kid feels rejected, they will have troubles regardless of whether their mother works outside of the home or not."
Susan Newman, PhD, a social psychologist in Middlesex County, N.J., and author of several books, including The Case for the Only Child, says the new study validates what she has been saying for years. "It pays to work," Newman says. "If you have reliable, nurturing caregivers, working just doesn't have the negative effect on children that many people have come to believe."
"There are no concrete, definable negative effects on young children if you are a working mom," she says.
In fact, "parents who do the best job are the ones who have interests outside of children, and working is certainly one of these interests," she says. "If you need to work or want to work, guilt is a wasted emotion."