What sucks about being a working mother

The mother's employment has no effect on the child's social behavior

COLOGNE. It has long been the norm these days for mothers to work. However, it is still controversial whether children suffer from their mothers' employment; many parents feel guilty. Possibly wrongly, as Cologne scientists have now determined.

The labor force participation of mothers is still rising sharply in many European countries. The companies are largely positive about this development. In Germany, too, women are under strong social pressure to justify themselves if they “only” want to be housewives and mothers for longer than the first three years of their children's lives. Childcare offers have in some cases been massively expanded, right up to the "U3 area". Nevertheless, many parents perceive their children's school entry as a great relief for their family practice in this sense. There are controversial debates, both among the general public and in academia, about the possible consequences for the development of children. It is often argued that working mothers have less time for their children and that they cannot do justice to their job or upbringing.

In a current study, Marita Jacob and Michael Kühhirt from the Cologne Institute for Sociology and Social Psychology examined the relationship between maternal employment histories in the first six years after the birth of children and behavior problems at the age of around eight. Using longitudinal data from nearly 2,000 children and their families in Scotland, they were able to capture their entire employment history from birth to the age of six.

The result initially showed that the children of mothers with a higher labor force participation even had fewer behavioral problems on average. Even if the factoring out of confounding factors relativized this finding, it should be noted that maternal employment did not have any demonstrable negative effects on the behavior of children at the age of eight.

No statistically significant differences were found with regard to the relationship between maternal employment and behavioral problems when looking at the level of education of the mothers. The children of mothers with a higher level of education only showed slightly higher values ​​with regard to the characteristics of hyperactivity and inattentiveness.

A finding with consequences, because the lack of differences in the rates of higher and less educated children with behavioral problems raised some doubts about the hypotheses made in earlier studies. According to Jacob and Kühhirt, economic resources, maternal health or family structure are not decisive factors that put the negative effects of maternal employment on the behavioral problems of children into perspective.

This would have some implications for politics: If, for example, children from disadvantaged households do not have a greater risk of behavioral problems because their mothers are employed, measures that directly target the participation of mothers in the labor force are “possibly not an effective strategy,” said Jacob and Kühhirt, to reduce the disadvantage of children and to promote social mobility.

Measures aimed at creating and maintaining a positive environment for raising children may prove more effective. Providing quality childcare, promoting social and cognitive learning for children, or growing up in a safe neighborhood may be more effective at alleviating social inequalities in children's development. (zab, PM)

Stop victimizing families! Parents need support now - no complaints about closed schools