New Report Shows the Powerful Effect of Working Moms

Want girls to grow up and be successful in the workplace? Support their working mothers.

According to a report released last month, working mothers have an extremely positive impact on their children’s future well-being—particularly their daughters.

The study, published through Harvard Business School, found that maternal employment had a direct effect on gender role models in the home and gender equality later in life.

Using data from the International Social Survey Programme, researchers found that “female respondents raised by a mother who worked outside the home are [4.5 percent] more likely to be employed, [19 percent] more likely to hold supervisory responsibility if employed, work more hours, and earn higher hourly wages than women whose mothers were home full-time.”

When it comes to mother-son relationships, working mothers are more likely to have sons who “are more involved at home as adults, spending more time caring for family members than men whose mothers stayed home full-time.” These findings, the authors suggest, present a “strong association between maternal employment and adult egalitarian gender attitudes.”

The study’s authors bemoan the lack of workplace policies supporting parental employment. A co-author of the study, Elizabeth Lingo, told the Ms. Blog that one of the challenges she faces as a researcher is introducing the findings of the study to people who could influence the types of legislative or corporate changes that would make an impact on working mothers’ lives.

“The managerial piece and corporate-practice piece are a very important part of this puzzle,” Lingo says. The paper mentions childcare, as well as “the culture of excessive work hours,” as types of policies and practices that need to be addressed to improve working parents’ lives. “Part of the gender initiative is seeing what companies are doing this well,” Lingo says. “Get[ing] people aware that this needs to be talked about, and then thinking about what a new possibility would look like within different industries, different companies, and then see who is willing to pilot.”

This study paves the way for future research, in particular on the impact of single working mothers (this study looked solely at heterosexual couples with children).

According to 2013 statistics, 63 percent of “breadwinning” moms are single mothers, and there is a huge income gap between single mothers and married mothers who are the primary providers for their households. A meta-analysis of research done on maternal employment and child outcome has shown that “for majority one-parent [households]” there is a “significant positive association between early employment and [children’s] achievement” as well as “decreased overall behavior problems.” While it’s often unfairly assumed that single-parent households create a negative environment for children, the result of this meta-analysis shows that:

Early maternal employment … [provides] added financial security and health benefits that accompany employment, as well as improved food, clothing, and shelter because of increased income and the psychological importance of having a role model for achievement and responsible behavior.

As the evidence clearly shows, working moms aren’t just bringing home the bacon—they’re paving the way for their daughters to succeed in the workplace, too.

Get Ms. in your inbox! Click here to sign up for the Ms. newsletter.

Photo courtesy of GSCSNJ via Creative Commons 2.0. 


Emma Niles is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and an editorial intern at Ms. Follow Emma on Twitter @emmalorinda.