Mothers who work full-time or part-time in the first six years of their child’s life have little impact on the child’s behaviour, according to new research by the University of Cologne, contrary to what many believe.
The study, conducted by Professor Marita Jacob and Dr Michael Kühhirt, investigated the link between maternal employment history in the first six years after birth and child behavioural problems at around age eight in Scotland. They found that children whose mothers have spent more years in full time and part-time employment actually display fewer behaviour problems at around eight years old.
However, these results are mitigated by other factors, such as economic resources, family structure, maternal health, child development and neighbourhood characteristics– this means that mothers who work do not impact their child’s behaviour at all, but these other factors do. The research also found that children from disadvantaged households, measured by a lack of university education in mothers, are not at greater risks of behavioural difficulties if their mothers are engaged in paid work.
This means that directly addressing maternal employment participation through maternal leave policies or welfare-to-work policies does not harm children’s social and emotional development. But it may also not be an effective strategy to reduce child disadvantages and promote social mobility.
‘Policies that aim at establishing and maintaining a positive child-rearing environment, for example providing high-quality childcare and stimulating social and cognitive learning, or growing up in secure neighbourhoods might be more successful in mitigating social inequalities in children’s development,’ says Professor Jacob.