Eight years ago, researchers at Columbia University worried a lot of new parents when they concluded that children whose mothers left home for full-time work in the first year of life were cognitively delayed compared with one-year-olds whose mothers stayed home. (No, the study did not measure the effect of working fathers.)
That well-publicized finding probably led some women to stay home. But given that more than 60 percent of mothers work when their children are younger than 6, the more likely result of the research was to increase the guilt and stress of working moms.
Now those same researchers are telling mothers to relax. Their latest research — which appears this month in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, follows the children to first grade. Titled “First-Year Maternal Employment and Child Development in the First 7 Years”, it confirms what the authors call a “mild” cognitive lag among children whose mothers worked during the first year. But it then goes on to conclude that other factors (benefits of having a working mother, if you will) offset that harm, meaning “the overall effect of first-year maternal employment on child development is neutral.”
In 113 pages, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Wen-Jui Han, and Jane Waldfogel of the Teachers College and College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia, analyze data gathered from 1,000 children across the U.S., as part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care. It found that working mothers displayed greater “maternal sensitivity,” or responsiveness, toward their youngsters, had a higher income and were more likely to find higher quality child care. In the end, the effect on a child’s intellectual, physical and emotional development was a wash. READ MORE