Monday, March 31, 2014

Does full time work affect childhood development?

Over the last generation, there have been an increasing number of working parents---a phenomenon that’s enabled more couples to be more financially comfortable, on the whole. But it’s come with the healthily and effectively raise children the way parents would like.

The last few decades have produced research on the effects of full time maternal employment on the behavior and achievement of children---but the conclusions of this research have been mixed, and largely reflected the prevailing ‘wisdom’ of the moment.

Understanding the perceptions of these effects, however, can tell us multitudes about the decisions that women are making today. In her seminar on “Stereotype Accuracy: Do College Women Miss the Mark when Estimating the Impact of Maternal Employment on Children’s Development?,” Professor Wendy Goldberg of UC Irvine discussed how college women frame the issue---and how accurate those stereotypes are.

She and her team found that most women overestimate the negative effects of motherhood on their children---i.e. they’d assume that working mothers would raise children with worse behavioral problems like aggression and depression, and that perform worse academically---and that women underestimate the positive effects: that having a working mother would provide a roll model as well as greater financial opportunities for her children, among others.

Accordingly, many mothers may seek to adjust their work lives accordingly, with part-time work or opting out entirely. The effect of this might be either a greater inclusion of mothers into the workforce, or a gender-segregation by jobs---particularly those who seek to advance after a break for childcare. Moreover, steady work reportedly offers the greatest mental and physical health benefits to women. Stereotypes regarding the negative effects of working mothers must thus be dispelled.

Of course, full time work is not a choice for many women and parents. Not all women have equal access to long-term, full time work, while women of disadvantaged economic backgrounds have even less flexibility. Thus more attention to paid parental leaves and subsidized childcare would help us get to a better place for all mothers, fathers, and children throughout society.

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