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Go Ask Mom

Study finds children of working moms face more health problems

Posted February 18, 2011

There's a new study that I suspect will spark another skirmish in the ongoing "mommy wars." And it comes from right here in the Triangle.

According to new research from N.C. State University, children of working moms are significantly more likely to experience health problems, including asthma and accidents than children with moms who don't work.

“I don’t think anyone should make sweeping value judgments based on a mother’s decision to work or not work,” says Dr. Melinda Morrill, research assistant professor of economics in the Poole College’s Department of Economics and author of the study. “But, it is important that we are aware of the costs and benefits associated with a mother’s decision to work.”

She said that in a press release, which I'm borrowing heavily from here.

The study looked at the health of school-age children who have at least one younger sibling. When a mother works, the study found, it leads to a 200 percent increase in the child’s risk of having each of three different adverse health events: overnight hospitalizations, asthma episodes, and injuries or poisonings.

Earlier studies have shown that, on average, children have better health outcomes when the mother works because of increased income, availability of health insurance and an increase in the mother's self-esteem.

Morrill found that wasn't the case. Morrill focused on the causal relationship between mothers working and children’s health. Morrill’s approach accounts for a number of confounding factors, such as how a child’s health affects the mother’s ability to work. For example, if a child is very sick, the mother may be more likely to stay at home.

“I wanted to look at mothers whose decision to work was not based on their children’s health,” Morrill said in the press release, explaining that a woman’s youngest child’s eligibility for kindergarten can influence her ability to return to the workforce. In assessing health outcomes, Morrill looked only at older children already enrolled in school, between the ages of 7 and 17, whose youngest sibling was around kindergarten age.

The study examined 20 years worth of data covering approximately 89,000 children from the CDC’s National Health Interview Survey. The data were collected between 1985 and 2004.


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  • right2life Feb 21, 2011

    There was more detail about this study in the N&O. A full-time parent is more likely to be aware of what is going on with their child. This allows for quicker response to health concerns, before they worsen. If you are a parent who works all day, you cannot be expected to see problems develop during your absence.
    This is not an attack on working parents, but rather an analysis of data on children's health. If you have healthy children, whether or not you work, be grateful. There is no reason to take offense if your children are well and you have no regrets about working.

  • momee Feb 21, 2011

    This is CRAZY!

  • newssaavy72 Feb 21, 2011

    I TOTALLY disagree with this story. I have a 12 year old, 5 year old and a 16 minth old who were all breastfed and are very healthy! I work with a government agency that is very flexible. I can take a paid sick day for doctor's appointments or to stay at home if I need to with my children if they are ever sick. This is rare though. I thank God for mt benefits (insurance- dental, medical, vision) and the flexible supervisor that I have which is also a working mother. This is wrong to say that mothers who work outside of the home have kids with more health problems. I am not in this statistic. Who are you doing these surveys on? Are the working mothers you study have few or no insurance and that is why they have kids with major health issues? The findings are not balanced out. The majority of my team are working mothers and none of them has had major issues with their kids being sick othere that the occasional bug here or there.

  • work4rmhomemom Feb 19, 2011

    I found a new job and told them GOODBYE within a few months of discovering their "family friendly policies". As most of the other posters have commented; it is REALLY about whether or not you put your kids first. They can take this study and shove it.

  • work4rmhomemom Feb 19, 2011

    Because I did very occasional freelancing on the side, I was able to take the experience, go out and find a job within 2 months.
    Now that my chidren are school age (my son goes to middle school next year, and daughter to 4th grade), I have never thought twice again about staying at home. I realize THAT decision actually puts us all in a vulnerable position (if my husband were laid off, we wouldn't have insurance, and would have to use our savings; plus retirement is only being built from 1 income).
    The kids are very healthy save an occasional cold; and all but 1 of the employers that I've had have been always gracious to allow my to work from home or take a day off if the kids were sick. There was one large triangle healthcare company (that is actually listed as 1 of the top family friendly employers)that actually WASN'T gracious about it. They had it written into your performance reviews if you had "unplanned health related absences". I found a new job and told them GOODBYE with

  • work4rmhomemom Feb 19, 2011

    " is important that we are aware of the costs and benefits associated with a mother’s decision to work.”

    Decision to work? Are you kidding me? With widespread unemployment, food inflation, gas at $3.15 a gallon and companies still laying off in RTP? In this day and age, one could say it is dangerous to a child's well being for a parent to make the "decision" to stay at home.
    I should know. I stayed at home with my children when they were younger (when my daughter was born, and my son was 2 1/2). Did that for 2 years.....until the day my husband came home and announced that he'd been laid off. The boss even thought it would make my husband feel better to tell him he was one of the more junior folks in the office, so they laid him off because they thought he could bounce back the best.
    However, looking back, I believe that we were lucky - the event made us "layoff" pioneers, ahead of the curve and massive layoffs that happened over the past few years. Because I di

  • jaymelinda Feb 18, 2011

    You can find data to support anything --- the fact that the result impacts "working mom guilt" just makes it headline-worthy. As a working mom of 3 (who all seem pretty healthy so far), I'm not realy that concerned about this (or about any of the tens of others of "studies" that condemn working while your kids are young.)

  • mamathaagra Feb 18, 2011

    The method used in this study is data mining. I'm sure you could mine and also find 3 endpoints which would be worse for stay at home moms, but that doesn't mean that their children would have been better off if they worked. You probably need twin studies where one twin was adopted by a stay at home mom and one was adopted by a working mom and then follow them for 10 years to see which twin group did better!

  • mwiggs2 Feb 18, 2011

    I totally agree with Twittyfan!!

  • cmk617 Feb 18, 2011

    As a working mom with two healthy kids, I think this report is flawed. My children spent some of their preschool years in daycare and some at home and they were generally healthy. I had lots of problems breastfeeding, even with extensive help from lactation consultants. I breastfed my youngest far longer than my other child, yet she has a peanut allergy and other food allergies. Go figure. We all do the best we can for our children. I do not believe there is a direct corellation here.