Working mothers: New book shows their jobs benefit families

April 29, 1999

ANN ARBOR—Mothers who are full-time homemakers are more likely to use either an authoritarian or a permissive parenting style than moms who are employed full-time, according to a University of Michigan author.
Working mothers are more likely to use an authoritative approach that relies on reason rather than assertions of parental power and encourages both girls and boys to be independent.
That’s one of the findings from a study of 369 families by U-M psychologist Lois W. Hoffman, co-author of “Mothers at Work: Effects on Children’s Well-being,” to be published in September by Cambridge University Press.
In contrast with full-time homemakers, employed mothers differentiate less between sons and daughters in their discipline style and in their goals for their children, Hoffman found. “Across social class,” she says, “working mothers are more likely than full-time homemakers to value independence for their daughters.”
For the study, Hoffman and colleagues interviewed mothers, fathers, school-age children, their teachers, and their classmates, collecting a wide range of information on behavior, attitudes, background, and academic achievement.
“We traced the effects of maternal employment through three pathways: parenting style, the father’s role, and the mother’s sense of well-being,” says Hoffman. “We found that most of the effects are positive. These include higher academic outcomes for children, better social adjustment for children, and a higher sense of competence and effectiveness in daughters.”
In addition to differences in discipline styles between stay-at-home moms and mothers who worked full-time outside the home, Hoffman and co-author Lise Youngblade, a psychologist at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, found that working moms are more affectionate with their children than those who don’t have full-time jobs. Both the children and the mothers reported more maternal hugs, kisses, and verbal expressions of affection. This difference in parenting styles between mothers who work and those who don’t is one of several effects of maternal employment Hoffman found.
“We also found that the husbands of working mothers helped out more with child-care and household tasks,” says Hoffman. “And one of the effects of a father’s increased involvement is that daughters do better on achievement tests, have less stereotypical attitudes about the competencies of men vs. women, and have a greater sense of personal effectiveness.”
While earlier studies have shown that daughters of working moms are likely to do better academically, Hoffman and Youngblade show that the positive effects of maternal employment are multiplied when fathers contribute to child-care and household responsibilities.
The new study also finds that sons as well as daughters of working mothers had higher scores on standardized achievement tests in reading, math, and science.
Finally, Hoffman notes, having a full-time job isn’t just good for the children. In working-class families, working mothers were less depressed, and their morale was higher than that of stay-at-home counterparts. “They feel a sense of empowerment,” Hoffman says. “If they’re earning money, they feel that disaster is less likely to hit them.”

Cambridge University Press