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Working Moms May Be Happier Than Stay-at-Home Moms

The latest research shows health differences as well.

December 13th, 2011

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Working Moms May Be Happier Than Stay-at-Home Moms

It’s a mother’s eternal struggle: Give up a career that fulfills and defines you, or stay at home to spend unparalleled quality time with your little one?

There are clearly benefits and drawbacks to both, not to mention the financial implications of needing two paychecks at home.

While Hollywood often portrays working moms as frazzled, stress-cases, a new study says working mamas are happiest. The study, published by the American Psychological Association, reports that working moms tend to be healthier and happier than those who stay at home during those first few years.

QUIZ: Feelin' Happy?

The researchers used data from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, looking at interviews with 1,364 mothers across the U.S.—starting just after the birth of their child, and spanning almost a decade thereafter.

And here’s where it gets interesting: Part-time work revealed slight benefits over full-time (part-time being defined as one to 32 hours a week), but on the whole, general wellbeing was unaffected by the number of hours punched on that time sheet. It just mattered that there was a time sheet in the first place!

“In all cases with significant differences in maternal wellbeing, such as conflict between work and family or parenting, the comparison favored part-time work over full-time or not working,” lead author Cheryl Buehler, Ph.D., said in a statement. “However, in many cases the wellbeing of moms working part-time was no different from moms working full-time.”

Part-time and full-time working moms didn’t show significant differences regarding health and depressive symptoms, or their perceived ability to be a good parent and support family life. Part-timers were more involved in their child’s school than full-timers, however, which seems obvious to anyone who has ever tried to run the pre-K bake-sale amid a barrage of boardroom meetings.

But do workplace structures allow for moms to finagle part-time work? Especially in these tough economic times, will job benefits or advancement opportunities suffer in result? Those are questions, the study authors says, that employers need to rethink.

“Since part-time work seems to contribute to the strength and wellbeing of families, it would be beneficial to employers if they provide fringe benefits, at least proportionally,” co-author Marion O’Brien, PhD, said in a statement. “[And it would also help to] offer them career ladders through training and promotion.”

Until that happens—to each her own. Find out what works for you and your family dynamic, and stick to that. Studies are smart, but still, mama may know best.

MORE: Parenting Tips for Your Daughter

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