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Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Study finds children of working moms face more health problems

Posted February 18, 2011 9:04 a.m. EST

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.