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Are moms healthier and happier because they work?

Categories: Career, Hacking Life


A recent study of 1,364 new mothers found that, over the course of about a decade, the moms who worked at least part time were healthier and happier than those who decided to stay home with their kids — especially when their kids were very young.

It sounds like the latest battle in the ongoing Mommy Wars, but it doesn’t have to be. The health benefits, the happiness… I think it all boils down to whether you’re doing what you really want to be doing.

According to the study, “Mothers’ part-time employment: Associations with mother and family well-being,” published in the December issue of the American Psychological Association’s “Journal of Family Psychology,” being employed has multiple benefits for moms. The researchers found that those who worked anywhere form 1 to 32 hours per week were more sensitive to their kids’ needs, less likely to have symptoms of depression, and more likely to split household duties with their spouses than mothers who were not employed. Moms who worked full-time outside of the home were more stressed out, which makes sense, but still reported fewer symptoms of depression than stay-at-home moms — which took the researchers by surprise.

“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,” the study’s lead author, Cheryl Buehler, professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said in a statement. “However, in many cases the well-being of moms working part time was no different from moms working full time.”

The moms in the study were from 10 different states and from varying socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. Some were single moms. Some were college grads. Some never finished high school. But the health benefits of working was evident in spite of all of the differences, the researchers said. “It may be employment in general rather than the number of work hours that protects against depressed mood when children are young,” Buehler concluded.

But for every woman who has told me that maternity leave was the toughest time of their lives, I know a stay-at-home mom who says she feels fulfilled by her choice drop out of the work force and focus on the kids. Staying home with your kids is a career choice in my book, not a moral imperative, so it makes sense that as long as you’re doing what you love, you’ll be happier and healthier than someone who is logging long hours in a place where they’d rather not be.

What do you think? Does working make you happier? Why or why not?

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2 comments so far...

  • This blog really hits home. When I was on maternity leave I wanted to avoid people just because all they would ask me was “When are you going back to work?”, “How many weeks do you have left?”, “You must be so upset to leave your baby”. These comments ate at me. Then after a year I saw how great my son was turning out and I realized what we were doing was working out for our family and he was becoming such a well-adjusted little boy. After my second baby, these comments didn’t stick to me anymore because I was secure in what I was doing. It’s funny though, sometimes when we see people who we haven’t seen in a while they will ask “How many days do work?”, “What hours?”, “You must be exhausted when you get home” instead of asking questions like “How does your son like preschool?” or “I heard he’s playing tot soccer?”. I’ve learned some people just want to focus on the negative and those people would probably have some negative comments or questions even if I was a SAHM. You can’t make everyone happy. I also grew to learn the people who make a big deal about me working were having issues of their own and putting me down made them feel better. The daughter of a SAHM I know is in a special kindergarten class for speech and I remember thinking how could that happen since she stayed home and could work with her on issues like that speech? I was glad that I realized I was judging just like people have judged me and I corrected my thought on that issue. Your so right, I feel working to pay for a mortgage, school, food, insurance, etc. is taking care of my children. I like to say I bring home the bacon and fry it up! :)

    Jenni  |  January 6th, 2012 at 10:18 am

  • I think having a reason to need to get up and go somewhere in the morning (or sometime during the day) is a good way to fight depression. For me, even before having kids, being answerable to nobody sounded good in theory, but it got depressing pretty quickly (and I’ve always been employed or a full-time student, so I’m not even talking about long stretches of time off). I know that being a SAHM is a lot of work and it certainly isn’t “all about me,” but at least in many homes, it lacks structure and appreciation.

    It’s interesting, because often, I daydream about “retiring” so that I could stop worrying about other adults’ demands. As much as I want to up and quit some days, I know I would not be happier just putzing with my kids. That work stress somehow fills a need.

    Another thing is that since I’ve seen my kids doing so well in out-of-home care, I honestly don’t think it would be best for them to have just me 24/7. Not by a long shot. More family time, yes, but not 100% family time.

    SKL  |  January 9th, 2012 at 4:07 pm