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Last Updated: Friday, 14 November, 2003, 01:50 GMT
Working mums 'harm children's progress'
Children's emotional development was among the factors studied

Should you stay at home to look after your child, or return to work?

Maybe you don't have the option. Combining work and motherhood is an issue faced by increasing numbers of women every day.

New research for the Institute for Economic and Social Research could solve this modern-day quandary once and for all.

In short, it concludes that going back to work after the birth of a child can have a negative impact on a child's development - unless you have lots of money.

In the short-term, returning to work could cause slower emotional development in children aged between 4 and 12.

Loss of maternal time has negative effects
John Ermisch and Marco Francesconi

In the long-term, children in their teens and early twenties could do less well at school or college, it says.

There is also evidence that these children will have less chance of getting a job, and a greater chance of becoming pregnant as teenagers.

"Growing up in a family in which the mother chooses to work appears to have some adverse consequences for children's welfare, suggesting that the loss of maternal time has negative effects," the research says.

However, it adds that extra money being brought in by both parents can lessen any negative effect.

The negative effective is also less apparent in children of better-educated mothers.

Single mothers

The research by John Ermisch and Marco Francesconi is particularly downbeat about welfare to work programmes and, especially, the prospects for the children of some single parents.

The higher family income... must compensate them for both the lack of parental time and the absence of one of their two biological parents
John Ermisch and Marco Francesconi

"It is hard to see anything but gloomy prospects for the children of single parents (who are generally poor)," the researchers said.

This is because in a conventional family where both parents work, extra money brought in by the mother working would compensate for less time spent with the children.

"The higher family income that their parents' employment is meant to provide must compensate them for both the lack of parental time and the absence of one of their two biological parents.

"Unless single parents are in relatively highly paid jobs, this double goal may be difficult to achieve."

Don't stress

In contrast, the researchers said the effects of paternal employment were far more modest, but this did not mean that fathers had no role in shaping their children's welfare.

Money brought in by the father would be a major resource for helping children develop.

Strong emotional ties between both resident and non-resident fathers and children would have a big impact on a child's welfare, they said.

The research says, however, that before parents get too carried away by worrying about working, there are more important issues facing a child's development.

Parents' personalities and emotional stability, parenting practices, and the friends and networks that children experience while growing up will be much bigger factors than whether their mothers work.

What do you think? Do you agree with the research, or is it out-of-step with your experience? Send in your comments, using the postform below.

The report appears to suggest that poorly paid working mothers harm their children while well-paid working mothers don't. Could another take on this research that it is poverty and social deprivation that really damages children and not whether their mothers work or not?
Suzanne B, UK

As a 'working mother' who has raised two sons, I read your article with interest, but was disappointed. It doesn't need research to say that a child's development is hampered if the environment is not conducive or complete, with both parents contributing emotionally and sometimes financially. It would be good if research could focus on the steps working mothers could take to compensate for the shorter time they spend with their children rather than add to their guilt by holding them solely responsible for any negative impact on their child's development. Incidentally, one of my sons is doing a PhD and the other is preparing for a Masters in management- and I wouldn't call that 'negative' in any way. Can such research please help working mothers with more positive solutions??
Madhuri, India

I believe it is whether a child has daily contact with a supportive adult that is important. Whether this be Mum, Dad, or a childminder. All the statements made in the article are qualified by could or something similar, which means it can only be true at most on average. It is not certain that there will be an emotional to the child if Mum goes off to work. It is plain daft to say this research could solve this "quandary once and for all". A happy, secure parent should ensure better emotional development for the child, and for most people that involves going out and earning some money.
Sam Seahorse, UK

My wife and I ARE doing the right thing. Our son goes to a nursery 3 days a week, and is with his mother for the remaining 2 working days before we get to the weekend where we are all together. My wife agonizes over the issue of is it the right thing to do. I wish someone could write that she is not a bad person for having our son in a nursery, because this is the message she is fed every day. No one tells me I'm bad, it's just an attack on mothers. Our son will grow up with all that we can provide, and I dare anyone to contradict us.
Mike Sweetman, UK

As ever it is a question of balance... dumping your baby in a nursery five days a week two weeks after birth is not going to make a child feel secure, but then a few days a week after 6 or 12 months isn't going to make them feel unloved and deprived either
Philip Hall, UK

This research doesn't tell us anything we don't already know. The conclusion to the article sums it up best: everything in the life of a child will affect its development, time spent with parents, family income, social economic group of parents, where you live, parent education and personality, friends, school trips, everything. You have to look at the whole package.
Roger, UK

My eldest daughter stopped working when she had her kids, but my youngest went back to work as soon as possible. It seems to me that my eldest daughter's children are more emotionally stable. They have less tantrums and are more self confident. They are also doing a lot better at school. I don't know if going back to work is significant, but is it worth the risk?
Anne Johnson, United Kingdom

This week in the news it was announced that primary schools will have to teach their pupils to talk and listen, as well as the three R's. Parents clearly have less time to converse with their children. Is this because they are both working?
Kevin, England

I couldn't agree with the article more. Fortunately, my wife and I are not in the position where she has to work to support us. However, I hope that this article is read by some of the mothers I know, who want to work because they are "bored" at home, or because they decided they just couldn't do without that SUV, replacement BMW, second holiday or five-bedroomed house.
alex, UK

It is important to realise that going back to work is more often than not a necessity, not a choice. As a mum to be I would like nothing more than to stay at home for the first years of my child's life, but then the mortgage would not be paid and we would bring our child up on the bread line. Which of those options is better for the child?
Jo , UK

I'm not sure what research this is based on, but from our family's perspective our sons have thrived on going to nursery and I'm sure their transition to school has been that much easier. They are certainly more socially aware than I'm sure I was at their age and I had stayed at home before I went to school as my mum did not work. As in all things in life it's down to individual personal feelings and circumstances. I don't think the part about single parents is anything but opinionated and likely to cause distress to those who can least afford to change things.
Andy, UK

Quite frankly, I think that researches and surveys done on single parents and working mums are rubbish. I was a single mum from day one of my daughters birth, until I married her stepfather when she was six years old. I worked full time from when she was three months old and my mother cared for her while I was at work. I still work full time. My daughter left secondary school having attained seven A*s, two As and two Bs in her G.C.S.E. exams. It is her eighteenth birthday in two weeks time. She is currently studying history, politics and english (A Levels)at Richmond Upon Thames College, travelling each day from Bermondsey. She has already attained straight As in history, politics English and law at AS Level and has been described by one of her tutors as 'a very nice human being'. I think these surveys are a waste of time and money, as each person is an individual and each of their circumstances are different. Because a mother works or is a single parent, it does not, in itself, condemn a child's development.
Carol Gavaghan, UK

Will the government now look at ways of allowing Mums to stay at home with their children if they wish to instead of constantly looking for ways to get them back to work? There should be financial incentives available for stay-at-home Mums as well as those who want or need to go back to work. Many Mums work because they have to, not because they want to & a little financial support (eg reinstating & updating the married man's tax allowance) would allow Mums real choice in this matter.
Tricia Urquhart, UK

My Mum gave up work we I was born. Having my Mum around all the time during my childhood was great. But this meant that the family had to make some sacrifices. In today's world it is often not possible for families to survive on just one income. Also, given that so many families are one parent families, there is no choice but for Mum to go out to work. Maybe, the answer is for the government to pay non-working mothers an allowance to encourage them to stay at home. If you think about it, the upbringing of the next generation is the most important job on the planet. Yet Mums get no payment for it.
Adam, UK

I can remember being at home as a child, before starting Primary School, and being extremely happy. However this made the transition to school difficult and I probably became too dependant on my family until later in life. Now I have a little boy who has been in Nursery full-time since 9 months, even though one of us works from home. The transition to school should be very easy and he has acquired social skills that he would not have otherwise, and benefits from structured learning.
Mark, UK

It looks like a useful report to add to the debate of working mothers. However, conclusive I think not. The issues raised are far to complex to suggest a one size fits all approach. Fortunately, both myself and partner are in income brackets that afford us the choice of one of us staying at home full-time. However, for us social interaction and stimulation are key and we believe that this is best served in our chosen nursery and not at home. As long our baby remains happy, alert and content (most of the time) we will remain with this scenario.
Bryan, Scotland

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