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News

Research Sees Benefits Of Working Mums

25/08/2010

A new study from the US has found that the benefits of mothers returning to work after childbirth outweigh any negative effects.

By James Tweedie

Researchers at Columbia University followed the development of more than 1,000 children from birth to seven years of age.

they found that while children whose mothers returned to work before their newborns were one year old did worse in academic ability tests, this was balanced by benefits such as increased family income.

One such benefit was that working mothers could afford better childcare than stay-at-home mums.

The study also found that working mums showed greater maternal sensitivity - or responsiveness towards their children - than stay-at-home mothers.

It said that such"indirect" benefits aided babies' development, balancing out the downsides of full-time work.

Overall, the study found that the effect on children of mothers returning to full time work within a year of childbirth was "neutral."

Some 80 per cent of US mothers return to work within a year of childbirth, in part due to limited maternity leave provision.

However, the researchers said that children's future prospects were significantly improved if their mothers worked part-time - less than 30 hours per week -during their baby's first year instead.

"Our results point to some clear advantages for children whose mothers worked part time rather than full-time in the first year of their life," they said.

They added that good parenting skills and access to quality childcare were key factors ina healthy upbringing.

The team admitted that the parents studied had been from "quite privileged" backgrounds and that further work was needed to study the effects of returning to work across all social groups.

Previous studies have painted a more negative picture of working mums.

The Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University found that children developed slower, with poorer verbal skills, if their mothers returned to work soon after childbirth.

UN children's agency Unicef claimed in 2008 that mothers who returned to work within a year of birth were 'gambling' with their children's development.

This latest study, by the Society for Research in Child Development, took into account family relationships, childcare and household income, as well as children's vocabulary, reading skills, academic progress and behaviour.

"Although there may be some downsides of parental employment in terms of child development,employment also confers some clear benefits," it said.

"Indeed, our results suggest that when we take factors such as maternal earnings, the home environment and childcare into account, the net effect of first-year employment on outcomes is neutral.

"This is particularly likely to be the case when that employment is part-time, rather than full-time."

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