Moms are awesome. They carry us around in their bodies for nine months while we constantly kick them from inside, spend hours trying to convince us to leave their bodies and come out into the world, and then spend the rest of their lives loving us unconditionally and doing everything they can to make sure we succeed in life. So whether your mom works 60 hours a week, stays at home full-time, or does something in between, she deserves more praise and thanks than we could ever possibly give her.
That being said, recent research may give some peace of mind to mothers who seek to go back to work after giving birth. Harvard professor Kathleen McGinn recently released the findings of her study about how having a working mother affects children later in life. She surveyed 13,326 women and 18,152 men in 24 developed countries and found that women whose moms worked outside of the home at some point during their childhood were more likely to have jobs, have supervisory responsibilities at those jobs, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed at home full-time. The study revealed that in the U.S., daughters of working mothers earned 23% more than daughters of stay-at-home mothers.
One key part of the study is the way the researchers decided who was considered a working mom. The question they asked respondents was, “Did your mother ever work for pay after you were born and before you were 14?” They didn’t care if the mothers worked for a few months or for the whole 14 years. They were looking for whether the mothers served as role models who demonstrated to their daughters that they could work outside of the home, and be successful in that work, in addition to inside.
The concept of a female role model fueled this particular research. In 2012, McGinn conducted a different study in which she found that female attorneys were more likely to succeed if they had female partners to look up to. The 2015 study takes those findings a bit further to suggest that the power of female role models extends beyond law firms to include all women, beginning in their childhoods. Growing up, your mother is often the most prevalent woman in your life, and having her showing you that you can succeed beyond the household can be powerful enough to influence the rest of your life.
These findings can appease the minds of mothers who worry that going back to work will negatively influence their children. Opponents to working mothers often throw around that it upsets that natural order of the family and will take time away from their kids, thus increasing the odds that they will get into trouble. Working mothers now have cold, hard facts to throw in critics’ faces. Additionally, they found that women spent about the same amount of time with their children regardless of whether they were employed.
Another finding of the study that is important to note is that this correlation between working mothers and higher salaries for daughters did not apply to all women. Interestingly enough, women who reported more conservative views on gender equality did not see an increase in wages.
Now what does all of this say about men? While there was no significant effect on men’s wages, the study did find that sons of working moms spent more time caring for the family and contributed more to household chores; these are results that would absolutely thrill Sheryl Sandberg. Working mothers increase the chances that their sons will contribute to the household duties that traditionally are set aside for the wives, thus opening up opportunities for them to explore work outside of the house as well.
McGinn’s study is further proof that all mothers rock. Whether she works outside of the home or inside, she is still loving her children unconditionally and doing her best to ensure that they have a bright future.
That said, the findings of this study emphasize the advantages of growing up with a mother who works. These advantages are why we need to do everything in our power to ensure that any mother who wants to go back to work after giving birth is able to. This includes exploring paid maternity (and paternity!) leave, affordable childcare, and equal wages. We know that mothers are awesome, so let’s give them the resources they deserve.
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