Working mothers are not only NOT damaging their kids, research shows that they are unwittingly improving their daughters' careers.
Harvard Business School's Kathleen McGinn looked at adult children whose mothers worked when they were young and found that, considering all sorts of factors, these women's daughters had better careers than girls raised by moms who did not work outside the home.
The study found no similar effects on working moms' sons.
The effect of working moms was apparent in all 24 countries in the study. Notably, these effects were more pronounced in places like the U.S. and Israel, where there are conflicting attitudes about women going to work rather than opting out of careers to provide primary care for their kids. In the U.S., daughters of working mothers earned nearly a quarter more than those of stay-at-home moms. In the group of countries dubbed "liberalizing egalitarians"—Nordic countries that had liberal gender attitudes for the last dozen years—the gap between daughters was less pronounced.
McGinn's group names countries like the U.S. "stagnating moderates," meaning attitudes about working women haven't really evolved since 2002, making what happens inside a girl's home the prevailing influencer. Researchers controlled for demographics such as age, education, spouse income, spouse education, religion and urban status. They controlled for other factors within each country.
One thing they couldn't control for was the mother's education, but McGinn explained in the Post that, since the sons of working mothers didn't out-earn the sons of stay-at-home moms, McGinn is pinning the working mom effect for girls on role-modeling from mom to girl. "If it's not the role-model effect, it should benefit both children," she said.
While working moms may not boost their boys' future earnings, their sons benefit as well: They're more likely to do housework as adults and also spend more time caring for children. That, one might guess, could influence their sons to also do more domestically. Sounds like quite an evolved future society.
"In our gender attitudes, we reflect what we see around us. Those gender attitudes tell us what's appropriate for a woman to do, what's appropriate for a man to do," she said. "Those can constrain men's involvement in their children's lives and constrain women's involvement in their careers."
The study examined data from some 50,000 respondents in 24 countries who took part in an international survey on gender and attitudes.
The takeaway? "Kids benefit from being exposed to a wide set of alternatives about what to do with their lives," McGinn said. "That could come from your mom working outside the home full-time. It could come from your dad cooking dinner every day. It could come from your aunt who's a scientist. It could come from your uncle who's a child-care specialist."