Does working make mothers happier and healthier?


Working mothers may be less depressed and healthier than their stay-at-home counterparts, a study finds.

There may also be advantages to working part time as opposed to full time, as women who put in less than 40 hours a week were more sensitive toward their preschool children. They were also as involved in their children’s school as were stay-at-home mothers, but more than mothers who worked full time.

In the study, published in the December issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, 1,364 mothers were interviewed and observed beginning right after the birth of their child through fifth grade about such subjects as depression, health status, juggling work and family life, and parenting. Families were from 10 locations around the U.S.


Women who worked part time and full time said they had fewer symptoms of depression than did non-working mothers. At three years, or once the child began school, those differences disappeared.

At most points during the study mothers working part and full time reported better health than mothers who did not work. Mothers who worked part time said they had less work-family conflicts compared to women who worked full time.

It should be noted that in some instances the differences among groups were small to moderate. Still, the study authors noted that the information sheds light on the advantages of part-time work for women with small children.

Work may provide women with support and resources they don’t get at home, and women who are at home all day with their kids may be more stressed because of it -- until the kids go to school.

“In all cases with significant differences in maternal well-being, such as conflict between work and family or parenting, the comparison favored part-time work over full-time or not working,” said lead author Cheryl Buehler in a news release. Buehler, professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, added: “However, in many cases the well-being of moms working part time was no different from moms working full time.”

Co-author Marion O’Brien, also of the University of North Carolina, said the study results showed part-time work is something more employers should value: “Since part-time work seems to contribute to the strength and well-being of families, it would be beneficial to employers if they provide fringe benefits, at least proportionally, to part-time employees as well as offer them career ladders through training and promotion.”


Mothers who have been on both sides of the issue -- working and not -- what do you think? Are you happier and healthier working or staying home with the kids?