While I have yet to see a study showing that a mother’s working has a negative impact on her children — unless she has no good childcare in place — there are definitely people out there who discriminate against working mothers and their children, according to a recent study published in Science Daily.
The study, conducted by Kansas State University, found that single graduate students were likely to say children whose mother worked full-time outside the home had a bad relationship with their mothers and exhibited behavioral problems — more so than than the children whose mothers stayed home, including work-at-home mothers.
The researchers did a study involving undergraduate students, all of whom were single, and 99 percent of the sample had no children. Each participant first listened to one of three interviews that reflected a working mother, a stay-at-home mother and what the researchers called a middle mother.
The working mother said in the interview that she went back to work two weeks after giving birth and worked more than 40 hours per week. The stay-at-home mother reported having stopped working outside of the home after giving birth. The middle mother described taking 18 months away from work after giving birth and then going back to work part time and gradually increasing her work hours.
“As a cover story, the participants were led to believe that there were many mother-child pairs being evaluated to see if people could tell if there were problems in the relationship,” Livengood said.
Then, each participant watched the same video of a mother and her 4-year-old son completing a puzzle and playing a game together. Because of the audiotape, the participants either thought she was a working mother, a stay-at-home mother or a middle mother.
The participants then filled out a questionnaire that evaluated their perception of the mother. They rated statements like, “She does a good job as a mom.” They also filled out a questionnaire about their perceptions of the child and responded to statements like, “This child is well-adjusted.” The last questionnaire regarded their perception of the mother-child relationship, such as if they thought the pair worked well together.
The findings showed that the participants didn’t differentiate between the stay-at-home mother and middle mother, but they did devalue the working mother in comparison. Livengood said the similar ratings for the two mothers might indicate that individuals understand women need a compromise. Findings also showed that not only did the participants devalue the mother who worked outside the home full time, but they also extended that negative perception to the child and their relationship.
As the study pointed out, the findings had less to do with whether relationships were actually strained, but rather the students’ projections and biases against the working mothers. I also have one question for Kansas State University. Why weren’t fathers included in the study? Considering that the recession has disproportionately affected men’s employment, it seems obvious — at least to me — to determine whether men’s relationship with their children are strained or their child’s behavior out-of-control depending on whether or not they are working.