New research has found that moms who work full time outside the home are healthier at age 40 than stay-at-home moms, moms who work part-time, or moms who find themselves repeatedly unemployed.
“Work is good for your health, both mentally and physically,” said University of Akron Assistant Sociology Professor Dr. Adrianne Frech.
“It gives women a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, control and autonomy. They have a place where they are an expert on something, and they’re paid a wage.”
Frech and co-author Sarah Damaske, Ph.D. examined data from 2,540 women who became mothers between 1978 and 1995.
After the researchers accounted for a list of factors, including pre-pregnancy employment, race, ethnicity, cognitive ability, single motherhood, prior health conditions, and age at first birth, they found that the choices women make early in their professional careers can affect their health later in life.
Women who return full time to the workforce shortly after having children report better mental and physical health, including greater mobility, more energy, and less depression, at age 40, according to the study.
Rather than fueling the “Mommy Wars” debate, which pits stay-at-home moms against working moms, Frech believes that a recently identified group, which she calls the “persistently unemployed,” deserves further attention, as they appear to be the least healthy at age 40.
These women are in and out of the workforce, often not by choice, and experience the highs and lows of finding rewarding work only to lose it and start the cycle again, she said. Persistent unemployment is a health risk for women, as stress from work instability can cause physical health problems, she added.
“Struggling to hold onto a job or being in constant job search mode wears on their health, especially mentally, but also physically,” she said.
According to Frech, working full time has myriad benefits, while part-time work offers lower pay, poor chances of promotion, less job security, and fewer benefits. Mothers who stay at home may face financial dependence and greater social isolation, she noted.
“Women with interrupted employment face more job-related barriers than other women, or cumulative disadvantages over time,” said Frech. “If women can make good choices before their first pregnancy, they likely will be better off health-wise later.”
“Examples of good choices could be delaying your first birth until you’re married and done with your education, or not waiting a long time before returning to the workforce.”
Frech advises young women to get an education and build a work history before having a first child.
“Don’t let critical life transitions like marriage and parenthood mean that you invest any less in your education and work aspirations, because women are the ones who end up making more trade-offs for family,” she said.
“Work makes you healthier. You will have the opportunity to save a nest egg. Also, should a divorce happen, it is harder to enter the workforce if you don’t have a solid work history. Don’t give up on work and education.”
Frech also noted that offering childcare and transportation resources to single mothers could result in better employment options for them.
Source: University of Akron