An end to working mother’s guilt?

Working motherThis week my husband and I received a photo of our daughter receiving an award at her office in Cambridge. It was a proud reminder our own professional careers haven’t messed her up too much, which is why this research caught my eye.

Having a working mother benefits kids, and particularly daughters, in the long run, according to a new Harvard University study, lead by Professor Kathleen McGinn. A global study of 50,000 adults in 25 developed countries found daughters of working mothers tended to complete more years of education, to be more likely to find employment in senior roles and to earn higher incomes than those of stay-at-home mothers. In fact, as adults those daughters earned 23% more than the daughters of non-working mothers, equating to an average annual income of $35,474 compared to $28,894. They were also more likely to be in managerial roles (33% vs. 25%.) As McGinn explained: “There is no single policy or practice that can eliminate gender gaps at work and at home. But being raised by a working mother appears to come very close to that. Women raised by a working mother do better in the workplace, and men raised by a working mother contribute more at home.”

According to a New York Times article ’Mounting evidence of Advantages for Working Mothers’: ‘The effect was strongest in countries in which there was a bigger divide in opinions about the role of women, like the United States and Israel, and in countries where gender attitudes were more conservative, like Russia and Mexico. It was smallest in countries where there was widespread acceptance of working women, like the Nordic countries.’

The Times explained: “Other researchers are less confident that the data has proved such a large effect, because it is difficult to know whether a mother who worked caused her daughter to work, or whether other factors were more influential. The problem is we don’t know how these mothers differed,” said Raquel Fernandez, an economics professor at New York University who was not involved with the Harvard study but who has also studied the topic. She explained “Was it really her mother working who did this, or was it her mother getting an education?”

Interestingly, the same trend didn’t apply for the sons of working mothers. However, having a working mother still had a lasting influence on sons, because they did more childcare and housework as adults. Indeed, the survey found sons of working mothers spent 7.5 more hours a week on childcare and 25 more minutes on housework than their male counterparts raised by stay at home mothers. If you’re single, we’d encourage you to partner up with the daughter or son of a working woman. The message is clear; being a working mother benefits your kids…and the people they will become.

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