Working mothers debate: Harvard research proves children benefit from having a career mum

Even today, it's a topic of debate: do women who work jeopardise their children’s wellbeing? Stop feeling guilty now, working mums – the latest research tells us our kids will be just fine (and, in fact, better off)

The debate over how kids are affected by having a mum in the workforce has been raging for decades – but nobody mulls over the pros and cons more than mothers themselves. The cost and quality of childcare, and a family’s overall financial situation will always be instrumental in a mother’s decision to stay at home or go back to work. But for those of us who do return to the workforce, we may always wonder if our kids would be better off with us at home.

Here’s some positive news: according to new research from Harvard Business School, which examined how the children of working mums turned out, our kids are going to be more than just fine. Even better, say researchers Kathleen McGinn, Mayra Ruiz Castro and Elizabeth Long Lingo, as working mothers shape their children’s aspirations and attitudes, mums who return to the workforce will play a critical role in reducing gender inequality in labour markets and households across the globe. What is key, say the researchers, is that “Whether mums or dads stay at home or are employed, part-time or full-time, children benefit from exposure to role models offering a wide set of alternatives for leading rich and rewarding lives.”

As part of the study, men and women from 24 countries across the globe were surveyed. Here are five findings that caught our attention:

1. Adult daughters of employed mothers are more likely to join the workforce themselves: across 24 countries, 69 per cent of women with a working mother were employed.

2. Boys raised by working mothers are more inclined to ‘lean in’: men are more likely to spend extra time caring for family members and doing household chores than the sons of mothers who were at home full-time.

3. Girls raised by working mums are more likely to be leaders in their professional lives: 33% of daughters of working mothers were in supervisory roles, as opposed to 25% of women who were raised by a stay-at-home mum.

4. Daughters of working mothers go on to earn marginally higher wages than women whose mothers were home full-time (around 4%).

5. Adult daughters of employed mothers do fewer hours of housework each week!


We know that all mothers work harder than anyone else can imagine, whether in the home or in an office. So, we want to know: what matters most to you in your decision to stay home or go back to work? Tell us what you think!