Gender Inequalities Reduced When Children Have a Working Mother


Though most American mothers work — nearly three quarters — broadly speaking, culture has never quite accepted the reality of mothers in the workplace. See for example, a recent Pew report that found 41% of Americans thought that working mothers were probably tearing the very fabric of our society to shreds (or, at least thought the increase of working mothers was “bad for society.”). In short, regardless of why mothers work – self-fulfilment, intellectual engagement, or just to pay the damn bills – Americans think that it’s bad.

But new evidence from Harvard suggests that working mothers aren’t necessarily ruining their children. Rather working mothers might be the closest thing to a “silver bullet as you can find in terms of helping reduce gender inequalities, both in the workplace and at home.”

The New York Times’ Upshot reports:

In a new study of 50,000 adults in 25 countries, daughters of working mothers completed more years of education, were more likely to be employed and in supervisory roles and earned higher incomes. Having a working mother didn’t influence the careers of sons, which researchers said was unsurprising because men were generally expected to work — but sons of working mothers did spend more time on child care and housework.
Some of these effects were strong in the United States. Here, daughters of working mothers earned 23 percent more than daughters of stay-at-home mothers, after controlling for demographic factors, and sons spent seven and a half more hours a week on child care and 25 more minutes on housework.

The latest study comes on the heels of a series of investigations into working, motherhood, and its effects on children. Overall the studies have found that children of working mothers are likely to be high achievers in school and that sons are more likely to marry a working woman.

Again, via NYT:

Many studies have found that parents’ attitudes toward gender roles and work greatly affect their children’s attitudes. The Harvard study, which is unpublished, is broadly consistent with their findings. It goes a step further, by showing that working mothers influence not just children’s preferences, but their behavior.
Ms. McGinn said parents seemed to be serving as role models. “This is our best clue that what’s happening is a real role modeling of skills that somehow conveys to you, ‘Here’s a way to behave, here’s a way you can cope with the various demands of work and home,’” she said.

Being a working mother isn’t always easy, especially when you have to drop a screaming toddler off at daycare as s/he begs to stay home with you; or when you have to figure out how to make that 4:30 meeting and pick up your kids. But maybe this new data will be a bit of a salve.

Image via Shutterstock.

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