Children of mothers who work

Children of mothers who work

EDITOR'S COLUMN Children of mothers who work T I-I E effect of maternal employment on children has been a source of concern since the beginning of t...

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Children of mothers who work

T I-I E effect of maternal employment on children has been a source of concern since the beginning of the industrial era when the introduction of machinery and the building of factories made cottage industry nearly obsolete. At first, the high mortality and the increasing crime rates among the children of working mothers were the concern, but more recently the effect on their emotional development has been the focus of interest for sociologists and psychologists. Recently, Dr. Lois Meek Stolz 1 analyzed the voluminous literature which deals with the influence of working mothers on the development of their children. This review was designed to find out what the literature contributes to an understanding of the effects of maternal employment on children fl'om infancy through adolescence. The problem of the working mother is of major magnitude. Women began to enter the labor force in large numbers during World War II. When the emergency was over, they continued to work; indeed their numbers rose rapidly. Between 1948 and 1958 the number increased by 80 per cent, and in 1959 women made up almost one third of the labor force in the United States. Of these 60 per cent were marricd, and 7 out of 8 were living with their husbands. In 1957 almost a third of the women with children under 18 years of age were working. A statistical analysis of working mothers and the relation to the age of the children,

the husband's income, the marital status, and race (Caucasian or non-Caucasian) has been presented by Herzog3 On the whole, working mothers have higher education than housewives but are in lower socioeconomic categories on the basis of their husbands' occupation and income and they have smaller families than the latter. More are widowed, divorced, or separated. They are more apt to live in cities than unemployed mothers. There are several reasons why the number of married women who work is increasing. For one thing, technical advances have greatly reduced the time necessary for household duties. Marriages now take place, on tile average, at a younger age than formerly, and childbearing is completed earlier. Consequently, in many instances the children leave home when the mother is only 50 years old and when she can look forward to a long period of activity. T h e results of studies of the effects of maternal employment on children are confusing and often conflicting. Stolz remarks, "One can say almost anything one desires about the children of employed mothers and support the statement by some research study." She concludes, in agreement with Maccoby ~ who reviewed the subject in 1958 and with Herzog in 1960, that no definite evidence has been adduced to show that maternal employment has an adverse effect on children. 484

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Of special interest are the findings in juvenile delinquency. Despite popular opinion, the Gluecks 4 found no important difference in the frequency of delinquency between children of working and nonworking mothers when significant variables were controlled. Only in the case of mothers who worked sporadically was there more delinquency among the sons. These mothers were a special group. Many of them had themselves been juvenile delinquents. In comparison with the housewives, more of them had husbands who were emotionally disturbed and more were dependent on social aid. By and large, the families were lacking in self-respect. More of the delinquent sons had emotional conflicts and there was more truancy in children of 10 years or younger than in the families where the mothers were regularly employed or were housewives. Maccoby, in commenting on the findings of the Gluecks, questions whether the sporadic employment of the mother led to the delinquency and suggests, rather, that the basic cause of the delinquency and the sporadic employment was the unsatisfactory home environment. From her review of the literature, Stolz concludes that available studies tend to deny that children of working mothers are more likely to be delinquent than the children of housewives. To explain the divergent findings, Stolz points to the failure to control pertinent variables such as socioeconomic status, and size and intactness of the family. Relevant too is the time when the studies were made since circumstances have changed considerably since World War II. Throughout her review, Stolz stresses the need for somehow controlling the variables of the mother's personality and attitude toward her children in assessing how maternal employment affects them. There is a sound basis for Stolz's doubts. The widely held view that early childhood experience is an important factor in shaping adult personality has been critically analyzed by a number of authors? They conclude that the important consideration in child rearing is the quality of the relationship between par-

Editor's column


ents and child, rather than any single event in the child's life. The equivocal and often contradictory results obtained in studies of the effects of maternal employment on children further bear out this view. There is ample evidence that the attitude of the parents toward the child and the general climate in the home are of much greater importance in shaping personality than whether or not the mother is employed out of the home. Given affectionate understanding, accepting parents, and a well-organized home, there is every reason to believe that children will endure the experience without harm. It is of first importance that the pediatrician appreciate the situation of the working mother. Many women, influenced by false psychiatric teachings, feel guilty because of imagined deprivations to their children. Consequently, what might otherwise be a satisfying experience, as in the case of professional women, is corroded by doubts and self-accusations. The same is true, though to a lesser extent, of women who work primarily for economic reasons. Instead of being praised for their efforts and sacrifices, they are often blamed for the misbehavior of their children. Herzog remarks that "the greatest boon that could be given to working mothers and their children would be freedom from anxiety and guilt." This is not to say that employment away from home is without drawbacks. It is pleasant for children to find their mother at home when school is over and the events of the day can be discussed with her over a welcoming tidbit. In this way an intimacy develops which becomes increasingly important during the adolescent years and later on as well. An unhappy situation arises when the wife earns more than her husband or achieves greater eminence in her work. In our experience this is a potent cause of marital disharmony and disruption. In counselling the mother about taking a job, a primary consideration is why she wants to work. By far the most common reason is to earn money, but there are other motives such as a desire to continue a pro-


Editor's column

fessional career or to continue in an interesting or lucrative job which she held before marriage, to escape the boredom of running a household, a desire to serve the community, discontent with marriage. Motives are, of course, often mixed. W h e n the children are still infants or under school age, provision for their adequate supervision is essential. This is not nearly as important after the children have started school, although provision for some supervision is advisable until about 12 years. Another consideration is the attitude of the husband. This m a y require some interpretation since he m a y acquiesce to his wife's taking a job out of consideration for her desires, when actually he is averse to it. Once a mother has decided to take a job, the physician will do well to support her in her decision. Especially, she should be reassured that there will be no adverse effects on the development of her children from the mere fact that she has a job. T h e problems of adjustment to the working mother are somewhat exaggerated in one-parent families, of which there are more than 2,000,000 in the United States. Contrary to popular opinion, 2 studies (quoted by Herzog) show the emotional adjustment of children from well-functioning, one-parent homes to be superior to that of children from unbroken, but u n h a p p y homes. I n some instances it is wise to advise a mother to get a job. She m a y be bored with

her monotonous existence or discontented with the family's finances and yet be hesitant to seek work due to inertia or to a feeling that she will be depriving her children of a needed m o t h e r in the home. I n the final analysis, the decision as to whether a mother is to work should be m a d e individually. Of one thing she m a y be assured: there is no evidence that employment in itself is harmful to the development of her children. HARRY BAKWIN~ M,D. N E W YORK U N I V E R S I T Y SCHOOL OF MEDICINE N E W YORK~ N. Y.


1. Stolz, L, M.: Effects of Maternal Employment on Children: Evidence From Research, Child Develop. 31: 749, 1960. 2. Herzog, E.: Children of Working Mothers, Children's Bureau Publication No. 382, Washington, D. C., 1960. 3. Maccoby, E. E.: Children and Working Mothers, Children 5: 83, 1958. Maccoby, E. E.: Effects Upon Children of Their Mothers' Outside Employment, in National Manpower Council: Work in the Lives of Married Women, New York, 1958, Columbia University Press, p. 150. 4. Glueck, S., and Glueck, E.: Working Mothers and Delinquency, Ment. Hyg. 41: 327, 1957. 5. a. Orlansky, H.: Infant Care and Personality, Psychol. Bull. 46: 1, 1949. b. Benedict, R.: Child Rearing in Certain European Countries, Am. J. Orthopsychiat. 19: 342, 1949. d. Bakwin, H.: The Aims of Child Rearing, New England J. Med. 248: 227, 1953. c. Mead, M.: Discussion of Benedict.