Breadwinning Moms—The Unexpected Benefits!

benefits working mom

Breadwinning Moms—The Unexpected Benefits!

The days of having a mother stay at home full time with the children has become atypical, even for those dual parent households. Maternal employment has become the norm, especially for single mothers. Nonetheless, as times change, a child’s role model becomes even more important.

Past research on women with children who worked, particularly mothers with young children, was often mixed, suggesting it was in the best interest of the child for a mother to put off employment in lieu of being with the children as long as possible. The mother staying home was seen as an exchange of time with the child for money, and as such negative associations around women and work were firmly established.

Yet, in a study investigating the impact of maternal employment begun the first two years after childbirth, few links were found between a mother working and a child’s cognitive or behavioral readiness for kindergarten (Lobardi & Coley, 2014). In fact, the research found early employment posed no risks in terms of cognitive development.

Further, in a meta-analysis of research maternal employment was associated with positive outcomes such as increased achievement and decreased behavioral problem for the majority of single parent samples evaluated. The additional income potentially served as a deterrent to a child’s behavior problems due to enhanced economic security and responsible role modeling exhibited by the single parent (Lucas-Thomas, Golberg & Prause, 2010).

It’s not difficult to understand how having a parent who is working hard to support the family illustrates values of achievement and success. More income into the home benefits the children in numerous ways, from simple things like enhancing the child’s diet to being able to provide for social activities. It also instills values of equalized gender roles for children. A child doesn’t just view a man as being the only one who can contribute to the financial stability of the home, a woman can play that role as well.

The impact of mothers working hold even longer lasting benefits continuing into adulthood. Kathleen McGinn a Professor at Harvard Business School along with Mayra Ruiz Castro, and Elizabeth Long Lingo analyzed archival data collected through the International Social Survey Programme from over 24 countries.

The surprising outcomes are as follows…

Women raised by mothers who worked…
• Earned more money
• More likely to hold a supervisory role
• Men raised by mothers who worked…
• More likely to share in household responsibilities
• Spent more time caring for family members
• Were more involved at home as adults

(McGinn, Castro, & Lingo, 2015)

These results reveal the power of instilling solid work ethic and equalized gender roles as an outcome of the mother working. It’s contributing to girls being more independent and professionally successful, which decreases dependence on another person. This in turn hopefully leads to better life decisions, as they have the capacity to make decisions based off of wants vs. needs.

For young boys it’s creating conditions for being more family-oriented, not only in their thinking, but their behaviors. One must also note, when boys grow up seeing their mother working and supporting their family, how they view women changes. When individuals believe they are equal contributors in a relationship, they are better partners.

Next time you feel guilty for working—don’t! You’re creating a better future for your children and teaching them a valuable lesson about accountability and responsibility in the process!


Lombardi, C. M., & Coley, R. L. (2014). Early maternal employment and children’s school readiness in contemporary families. Developmental Psychology, 50(8), 2071-2084. doi:10.1037/a0037106

Lucas-Thomas, R.G., Golberg, W.A., & Prause, J.A. (2010). Maternal work early in the lives of children and its distal associations with achievement and behavior problems: A meta-analysis, Psychological Bulletin, 136 (6), 915-942. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0020875.supp

McGinn, Kathleen L., Mayra Ruiz Castro, and Elizabeth Long Lingo. “Mums the Word! Cross-national Effects of Maternal Employment on Gender Inequalities at Work and at Home.” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-094, June 2015. (Revised July 2015.)

Mothers who work are shaping their children’s perspectives and behaviors, creating foundations for professional success and family loyalty.
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