Children of working mothers face more health problems

Research Activities, February 2012, No. 378

Children of working mothers are approximately 200 percent more likely than those with stay-at-home mothers to have been hospitalized overnight, had an asthma episode within the past 12 months, or had an injury or poisoning episode within the past 3 months, according to a new study. Although the percentage of women with children participating in the labor force has risen from 54.9 percent in 1975 to 79.4 percent in 2001 (declining to 76.9 percent by 2005), the impact of maternal work on children's health has remained unclear, reports Melinda Sandler Morrill, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University.

A mother's participation in the labor force can improve her children's health by bringing in money that can permit a healthier lifestyle for the family, and may also permit better health care through employer-provided health insurance coverage. However, her children's health could also be impacted negatively because of the added burden on the mother's time, resulting in less supervision or care of the children (for example, less time to prepare healthy meals or clean the home).

In her study, Dr. Morrill looked at the three potentially adverse health events cited above in a population of children, ages 7-17 years. Her data revealed a clear increase in the percentage of mothers working once their youngest child reached 60 months of age by their State's kindergarten enrollment cutoff date. She found that a mother's employment increased overnight hospitalizations by 4 percentage points, injuries/poisonings by 5 percentage points, and the rate of asthma episodes by 12 percentage points, each by about 200 percent.

The findings were based on data from 1985 to 2004 from the National Health Interview Survey, which is conducted annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS17375).

More details are in "The effects of maternal employment on the health of school-age children," by Dr. Morrill, in the Journal of Health Economics 30(2), pp. 240-257, 2011.

Page last reviewed February 2012
Internet Citation: Children of working mothers face more health problems: Research Activities, February 2012, No. 378. February 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.