Are working mothers happier?

The Kids Are Alright

Part-time work offers the optimal mothering-life balance.
Part-time work offers the optimal mothering-life balance.
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One way the inherent pressure involved with employed motherhood manifests is in the amount of stress encountered on a given day. For instance, a 2005 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 40 percent of working moms always feel "rushed" throughout their daily routines [source: Pew Research Center]. Twenty-five percent of at-home mothers and working dads, on the other hand, felt perpetually rushed, although both working and non-working mothers exhibited higher rates of stress than men in the survey [source: Pew Research Center].

Despite these clues that working mothers grapple with more stress, psychological research has found that they are subjectively happier than unemployed mothers. According to a study from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, mothers with part-time jobs enjoyed better health and lower stress levels that their full-time and unemployed counterparts [source: Rochman]. The research, published in December 2011 in the Journal of Family Psychology, also indicated that part-time working moms exhibit greater sensitivity toward their children, participate in more school functions and foster more extracurricular learning [source: Rochman]. A January 2012 study from Rutgers University also determined that flexible work options, such as teleworking, correlate to a more fulfilling work-life balance for mothers [source: Alger and Crowley]. In that way, engagement and autonomy outside the home can allow part-time working mothers to stay more fully engaged inside the home, without the added demands of a 9-to-5 schedule.

On the down side, there's also a part-time penalty that many working mothers encounter. Although workplace studies have found that mothers in particular accomplished 22 percent more in 10 percent less time compared to their peers, they bear the brunt of lower part-time status [source: Pynchon]. In addition to not accruing health benefits and paid time-off, part-time work earns up to 60 percent less than full-time for identical jobs [source: Joint Economic Committee Majority Staff]. Perhaps the mental health boon is enough of a bonus for mothers, however, considering that 60 percent identify part-time work as the optimal employment scenario [source: Pew Research Center].

And what about the kids? Working mothers feeling anxiety over whether their paychecks are bankrupting their children's development can rest easy. A 2010 meta-analysis of child development literature published by the American Psychological Association found no adverse effects of maternal employment over the long term [source: Lucas-Thompson, Goldber and Prause]. Individual studies have indicated minor achievement gaps in early childhood, all of which were nonexistent by age 3 [source: Luscombe]. In which case, it's high time for the "Mommy Wars" to declare a ceasefire.