In the Observer: Working mothers ‘don’t harm their children’s development’

A major UK study of 17,000 has revealed that working mothers ‘don’t harm their children’s development’,

“Despite public opinion to the contrary” there is little evidence that having a working mother during infancy harms a child’s mental development or adversely affects its behaviour.

Researchers looked at the lives of 17,000 Britons and their children, who were born mainly in the 1990s. Using tests and questionnaires to track development and behaviour, they found that those whose mothers had returned to work in the months before their first birthday did not appear to be disadvantaged.

The results show that the public debate about motherhood is too skewed towards the issue of whether women worked or not, according to academics. Heather Joshi, co-author of the study and a professor at the Institute of Education in London, said that other factors, such as a stable home environment, had a much bigger impact on child development.

Joshi, who is director of the Institute’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, argued that improvements in childcare arrangements, changing attitudes in society, more flexibility at work and the increased involvement of fathers in their children’s lives had all contributed to the shift.

The debate should accept that women work and focus instead on the need for high quality child care.

Katherine Rake, the new chief executive of the Family and Parenting Institute, said that working motherhood was a reality and the time had come to shift the debate to how to encourage and support women.

She described Joshi’s study, which is published in the Journal of Longitudinal and Life Course Studies, as “solid evidence challenging a long-term media debate that has too often demonised working mothers”.

Source: The Observer, UK – 18/10/09

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