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Are Working Moms Healthier and Happier?

Working Part Time May Be Better for Mothers' Health Than Staying Home When Children Are Young
By Cari Nierenberg
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 13, 2011 -- Mothers who work part time may be enjoying some unexpected full-time perks: Better overall health and fewer signs of depression compared to stay-at-home moms. 

A new study suggests mothers who work part time, especially when their children are babies and preschool age, have less symptoms of depression and better self-reported health than mothers who stay home.  

In fact, in many areas, the emotional well-being and health of moms working part time was no different from mothers holding down full-time positions -- even if there were differences in paychecks.

"A mother's economic role is central to family life, and it supports her well-being and her parenting," says researcher Cheryl Buehler, PhD. Previous research has looked at whether or not a mother was working and how this affected her children. But those results have been inconsistent. 

Yet there's been little study of part-time work in particular, and its effect on motherhood, family life, and parenting in general.

In this study, researchers wanted to find out whether a mother's part-time work was more similar to those who stay at home or those who work full time. Working part time was considered anything between one and 32 hours of work a week.

Researchers reviewed data from more than 1,300 mothers across the U.S. Information was collected from seven different interviews with mothers over a 10-year period beginning in 1991.

Mom's Part-Time Perks

As expected, mothers who worked part time tended to have fewer work and family conflicts and were more involved in their child's schooling than their full-time peers.

They also provided more learning opportunities both inside the home, such as reading books, and outside of it, such as visiting parks or museums.

In addition, part timers appeared to have a gentler touch when it came to parenting. They were shown to be more sensitive with their preschool-age children than full timers and even stay-at-home mothers.  

"Work offers mothers real important opportunities and resources to minimize social isolation and enrich their social development and well-being," says Buehler. She is a professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. "It gives mothers tools, ideas, and strategies when raising a child."

On the job, mothers are involved in problem solving, grappling with different points of view, and handling diverse personalities, Buehler tells WebMD. And all these skills can be taken home and put to use, especially as children get older.

Buehler also found it interesting that although mothers who worked full time reported more work-family conflicts, this stress did not appear to affect the women's psychological well-being. In other words, it was not translating into more depressive symptoms, such as feeling down or trouble sleeping.

Mothers working part time did more housework and childcare than full-time working mothers. And having a part-time job did not increase a couple's intimacy.

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