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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 18:16 GMT
Do working mothers harm their children's education prospects?
Do working mums harm their children's education prospects?
A long-term study concludes that if mothers went back to full-time work early, their children would be less likely to achieve A-levels.

Campaigners for equal rights say that more should be done to address poverty and improve education.

The government says the figures were based on children born 30 years ago, when there was little quality childcare or nursery education.

Is the level of support for children and mothers today adequate? Or do children still suffer? Do working mothers harm their children's education prospects?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

I will get back to you in 17 years and tell you how she is progressing

I am a single mum to an adorable 2-year-old girl. I didn't bank on being left on my own to raise my daughter - the 'father' left. I have to work full time in order to pay the mortgage/ bills, the usual etc. I would dearly love to work part-time and spend more time with my daughter but finances will not allow. Added to this enormous pressure, to read that I could be causing her psychological problems in adulthood is damning. My daughter is happy, loved, clever, normal even. I will get back to you in 17 years and tell you how she is progressing.

You don't need a study to prove that it is harmful to abandon your children in their youth. We should also be reminded that "working mothers" is a communist ideal, not one for a free country. Somewhere along the line, the struggle for women's rights has been side-tracked to turning women into men with different genitalia.
Laura Morgan, UK

I have brought a grandson up from when he was born. His mother, who did not work, left him when he was 3 so he had to go to a childminder. He is a most stable and secure child of nearly 14 now and doing well at school. He is given a lot of love and support from his family. I am sure there are lots of women out there on their own who have to go to work who are able to bring their child or children up in a secure family unit. As for Tony, aren't you lucky, you must have a good job! Wait until the next one comes along, let's hope your wife is still able to stay at home.
Sally Hobbs, England

I think it is important for there to be 1 parent at home full time - mother or father.
Kenny G, Scotland

We live in central London where (good) childcare is prohibitively expensive - more than my partner's net income. Hence an easy decision.
Paul, UK

As Professor Ermisch admitted himself on the Today programme, where the full-time working mother is earning a higher income the 'damage' to the child's educational achievements was greatly diminished. Did this not lead him to consider the possibility that other social factors, such as poverty, the lower wages paid to women, lack of good-quality childcare, inability to pay for education or access to good schools, might just account for the difference in educational achievement?
Anna, UK

Yes children will suffer but what else can a mother do when for most families both parents must work in order to have a reasonable standard of living, or simply to survive, in rip-off Britain?
Garry, England

Women want 'equality'; well it comes at a price. Of course this is all a social experiment going wrong, and the real consequences will be felt in the coming years. Pretty soon you'll be seeing evidence of 'equality' playing a part in explaining why there are so many teenage mothers! People still think that 'income' levels determine the upbringing of their children and not nurture. Motherhood IS a fulltime job, you can't have it both ways! This is where you'll start hearing women say fathers should spend more time 'mothering'!
Zafar, England

Thankfully, we have progressed a long way from the view that women's role is to be at home

Pete Morgan-Lucas, UK
It's not just about issues like money - I know several "working mothers" for who the idea of giving up their careers - and thereby losing the social/intellectual stimulation provided by their work - would be utterly abhorrent. Thankfully, we have progressed a long way from the view that women's role is to be at home, chained to the kitchen sink with a couple of kids in tow. My accountant, lawyer, doctor - all women, who combine life, work and childcare extremely well!
Pete Morgan-Lucas, Wiltshire, UK

This is a not a question of gender but of economics. A group previously excluded (or undervalued in) from the labour market has been to a large extent assimilated, in effect increasing the potential of the economy. With more earning power, spending power has reciprocally increased pricing the poor non-worker out of society. Unfortunately there is no longer a segment of the population available for child rearing and other socially useful functions.
Spencer, UK

This really annoys me. Some women may not want to stay at home (what a thought!). This does not mean they want their children any less that most men for whom the idea of giving up their career to look after their children is almost unthinkable. Why do women have to feel any different? The comments of Tony are typical - while he thinks that his child will benefit from having a parent at home it is his wife who will be leaving her job.
Al, UK

Couples should plan ahead if they want children. They should make sure that they can financially handle parenthood. If this means one parent works and the other doesn't, or both work part-time or one full-time and one part-time, then that's OK. Many people have children to fulfil a basic biological urge without thinking about the realities of parenthood. It's these people who are creating the damaged children that are the disease in our society.
Kev, UK

So many women have swallowed this feminist propaganda

Phyllis Carter, England
I am a 'housewife' who finds 'housework' and looking after children very fulfilling. I do not believe that I need a career in order to be fulfilled. So many women have swallowed this feminist propaganda. It is so important to raise children in a happy domestic environment and I am sorry, but so-called childcare centres do not do this. This Government likes them because the socialists have always wanted to destroy the traditional family unit.
Phyllis Carter, England

In my experience there is incredible peer and family pressure, even today, against working mothers. This research just adds to the guilt society seems to want us to feel for needing to work or achieve something outside the home. Please lighten up on working mums - our life is hard enough! Amanda
Amanda Heaney, UK

I think we are getting too obsessed with these 'studies'. My mother worked full-time when I was growing up and I now have a university degree. Therefore I wouldn't say that mothers (or fathers) can potentially harm their children by working full-time. Failing children is more often than not a result of bad parenting. I agree with more flexible approaches for both working mothers and fathers, but at the end of the day it is their responsibility to bring up their children, not the state's.
Mick Deal, UK

So what about single mum's who have to work full-time to provide a roof over the heads of their children and put food on the table supposed to do? Are we expected to apologise to our children when they reach 18 saying, "it's alright sweetheart, you'd have passed if I hadn't worked. We could have lived off the state, but I chose to pay my own mortgage, bills etc." The Joseph Rowntree Foundation know what they can do with their report.
Mrs S. Aird, UK

I do not have any children at the moment but would like to have some in the future. However, even with both my partner and myself working full time we are struggling to make ends meet now. The Government should take measure to reduce the cost of living but re-instating MIRAS tax relief, cutting the cost of petrol etc which may make it feasible for one of us to be a full time child carer.
Katherine Hutt, Britain

I have to work for the time being

A Mother, London, UK
I am the mother of a wonderful one year-old and it breaks my heart everyday to leave him with his childminder. I know he is happy there, in a loving, caring and stimulating family environment, but it doesn't make it a lot easier to have to miss out on so much of his growing up. I have to work for the time being and my job does not lend itself to part-time work. So being told that I am harming him does nothing for me or my family other than bringing heartache and yet more soul searching.
A Mother, London, UK

The tax and benefits system should enable a family to live, run a car, and take a holiday, on 35% of the average adult income. One adult - not two. This will then free time to run parents and toddlers groups, cubs, scouts and generally rebuild communities. It would also make businesses massively more productive.
Mike K, England

It's hardly fair to pick on mothers going back full-time. They probably don't have a choice in this credit-crazy "spend now pay later" economic climate. And it's not just the kids that suffer because of the pressures of work. The whole family is at risk as long as people are willing to put their jobs first. We already work the longest hours in Europe, and until that work ethic changes there's not much hope for anything else.
Al, Somerset, UK

Why does the phrase "working father" never appear in any of these debates? I am tired of seeing mothers of young children criticised for everything. They get criticised if they stay at home and criticised if they don't. Anyone would think that kids didn't have fathers. When are we going to hear about the negative effects of fathers' long working hours that result in effective absence from the family?
Kate, UK

Most families need two incomes to live on so it stands to reason that the type of family where the mother can stay at home is going to be one with a high earning partner in it. This brings in other factors such as the merits of a stable two parent family situation and the likelihood that a richer family will be able to pay for private education etc. I'm not forming any judgements here but just pointing out that taking two separate factors and assuming one is the direct cause of the other implies a lack of detailed thought on the subject.
Richard, UK

My wife and I are expecting a child shortly and my wife will be giving up work to be with our child

Tony, UK
I see more and more mothers returning to work shortly after their children are born these days and it's generally NOT for financial reasons. One wonders why these people ever bother having children if they just palm them off to someone else and miss the exciting times like the first words and steps. My wife and I are expecting a child shortly and my wife will be giving up work to be with our child. This will have a big effect on our income but we believe it's the right decision.
Tony, UK

The question as to whether mothers should work or not is surely academic. They form such a significant part of the workforce nowadays the economy would probably collapse if they all decided to stay at home. And anyway, the days of being able to live on one wage are long gone. You either struggle like hell on one salary or, if you both work fulltime, find you've got more than you need. Which would you choose?
Steve, UK

Yet another stick to bash working women with. Why does the press always have to rub its hands in glee every time some study shows flimsy 'evidence' that working women supposedly harm the prospects of their children? I'm sick of it and I'm sure most of the country's women (whether they are mothers or not) are too. We've spent years campaigning for the right to work on equal terms with men but it seems the patriarchy still exists with a vengeance and is still all-out to push back the gains we have made for women's rights, freedoms and above all CHOICES about how we live our lives.
Caroline, UK

Why is there a presumption that childcare is the mother's problem. Working "parents" may affect the upbringing of a child but suitably trained staff who have had lessons in childcare, as opposed to most parents, are quite capable of giving children a good start in life. Emotional support is very important in creating a balanced personality but parents are not necessarily the best to deliver this.
Steve Dempsey, UK

The report does not seem to allow for other social factors

John Weir, UK
The report does not seem to allow for other social factors. If a mother with a long-term partner needs to work it is presumably because his income is not sufficient to support the family. Lower incomes are usually linked with a lower level of education. A less educated parent is not going to be able to give the same level of academic support as that of graduate parent for example.
John Weir, UK

No, working mothers would not harm their children's education prospects. On the contrary, doesn't one more working parent means more income? Wouldn't more income in turn lead to a better education environment for the child?
He Junyi, Singapore

This kind of thing really infuriates me. Why mothers?? I work fulltime while my husband stays at home to look after our son. Is the care he provides in some way inferior?
Julie, UK

It would be a help if fathers had the right to more paid leave so that they could help their spouse at this very important time in their lives.
Richard, Great Britain

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