A major Harvard study has delightfully slayed negative perceptions around women combining paid work with parenthood. This is welcome news for many mothers who either want or need to work, and may harbour feelings of guilt regarding their careers and their children’s development.
This 10-year study revealed many positive facts: the daughters of working mothers enjoyed better careers, higher pay, more equal relationships and different expectations about home duties than daughters raised by stay-at-home mums.
To undertake the study, data from 24 countries were assessed, including the UK and the US, revealing that both sons and daughters of working mothers appeared to thrive. In particular, daughters benefited the most from their career mums who provided productive and positive role models.
An interesting component of the study was the positive effect on the daughters’ later careers, particularly in the UK and US where the gender pay gap and public attitudes towards career equality are more of a barrier than in some northern European countries. In the US and UK the daughters gained confidence from having a strong female role model, showing an overall 4% higher rate of pay than their peers. In addition, they were likely to have been promoted into more senior positions. In fact, managerial posts were held by one in three daughters of working women, compared with only one in four of those with stay-at-home mums.
The lead author of the study, Harvard Business School professor Kathleen McGinn, said the findings suggested that not only did the daughters benefit from experiencing this equal gender attitude, but the daughters learned invaluable skills that allowed them greater involvement in the workplace, with more potential to rise to more senior positions.
Credit must also be given to our previous generation of feminists. The study suggests that today’s working women are reaping the benefits of what the earlier generation of feminist women worked so diligently toward achieving – fighting hard against sexual discrimination and ingrained social attitudes. In today’s workforce, discrimination against women is far less overt than in the previous generation, yet it reveals that those who had working mothers still benefited from a subtle but powerful message of competent equality, allowing them to do better than those without working mothers.
Having a working mother also proved to reveal other differences in the daughters’ behaviour. Unsurprisingly, less time was spent on housework – a clear sign that these daughters embraced issues loftier than the importance of sparkling kitchen surfaces. Despite spending less time on domestic duties, working adult daughters also displayed equal involvement in caring for family members as their stay-at-home counterparts.
Sons of working mothers also behaved differently than those with stay-at-home mums. These men were observed to be more involved in home duties and parenting.
Many of those interviewed regarding the Harvard study said that while there was prior research evidence showing that there are no negative impacts on the children of working mothers, this study helped to confirm these beliefs.
Belinda Phipps, chair of the Fawcett Society for women’s equality, did note her disappointment, however, that progress towards the full sharing of home chores (with the exception of childcare) was still slow to change. She suggested that cultural attitudes still needed to change in order for gender equality to be achieved.
Gender activists and academics encourage further changes in government policy and practices to make the workplace more family-friendly, improve the availability and quality of part-time and flexible work and investment in childcare options. This would enable individuals who choose to work and parent achieve a fuller scope of work life balance. And, for working mothers, maybe even a chance to reduce the gender pay gap.
Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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