Compared to stay-at-home moms, moms who work part-time or moms who have some work history but are repeatedly unemployed, working moms are much healthier.
According to new research conducted at the University of Akron by Assistant Sociology Professor Adrianne Frech, moms who work full-time are healthier at age 40 than other moms.
Alongside co-author Sarah Damaske of Pennsylvania State University, Frech observed longitudinal data from 2,540 women who became a mother between 1978 and 1995. Frech factored in elements such as pre-pregnancy employment, race/ethnicity, cognitive ability, single motherhood, prior health conditions and age at first birth.
The research demonstrated that the choices women make early in their professional careers can affect their health later in life. Of those women who returned to work full-time shortly after giving birth they reported a better mental and physical health such as greater mobility, more energy and less depression by the age of 40 than moms who did not return to work.
"Work is good for your health, both mentally and physically," Frech said. "It gives women a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, control and autonomy. They have a place where they are an expert on something, and they're paid a wage."
Among her findings, Frech believes a group of women who she classified as the "persistently unemployed," require the most attention because they appear to be the least healthy at age 40. "Persistently unemployed" refers to those mothers who are frequently in and out of employment and experience the highs and lows of finding work only to lose it and begin the cycle again.
The research revealed, compared to moms who only work part-time, working full time has a multitude of health benefits. Part-time work offers lower pay, a reduced chance of being promoted, less job security and fewer benefits. Stay-at-home moms may suffer from financial dependence and a greater chance of social isolation. Being "persistently unemployed" can create stress from work instability which can lead to physical health problems.
"Women with interrupted employment face more job-related barriers than other women, or cumulative disadvantages over time," Frech said. "If women can make good choices before their first pregnancy, they likely will be better off health-wise later. Examples of good choices could be delaying your first birth until you're married and done with your education, or not waiting a long time before returning to the workforce."
Frech warns women to not let transitions in life such as marriage and parenthood, to allow one to invest an less in her education and work aspirations, because women are the ones who end up making more trade-offs for family than men.
Professor Adrianne Frech presented her research at the American Sociological Association's Annual Meeting.