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Full Time Work: Better Health for New Mothers?

Working MomsDecember’s Journal of Health and Social Behavior just published a report indicating that women who work full-time following the birth of a child enjoy better physical health than those who don’t go right back to work full time. This study is based on 30 years of data from over 2,500 mothers. University of Akron sociologist Adrianne M. Frech and Sarah Damaske evaluate women in four mutually exclusive career tracks: “steadily working women, women who pulled back from full-time work following the first birth, women with repeated bouts of unemployment while attempting to work full-time — interrupted work careers — and stay-at-home mothers who did not work for pay and did not seek work.”

The researchers discovered that the consistently working mothers were comparatively advantaged prior to having their first children, and that those advantages (at least concerning mental and physical health), not only continued as they reached age 40, but actually increased. As Dr. Frech explained, “It’s not just that they were advantaged before; even when you remove all the statistical noise, there are apparently added advantages from work.”

Workers Benefits for Mothers

Dr. Frech states that she is not trying to give career advice to women. “I worry that it’s being misinterpreted as researchers saying that stay-at-home-moms made bad choices,” she said.  Frech and her co-author do not intend for the results to be seen as a judgment on any woman’s choice to work or stay home. For most women, Dr. Frech argued, the positive relationship between full-time employment and increased health is less about “choices” than about “constrained choices.”

For example, Dr. Frech explained that women who work part-time, when seen at as a segment of society as a whole (rather than as a portion of the upper middle class) are in significantly different circumstances. Those part time workers are more likely not to have worked a full-time job at all before giving birth. They are also more likely to experience barriers of transportation or language.

Many such women are moved into different “work pathways” by their personal backgrounds and resources. According to Dr. Frech, it’s those distinctions, often determined by culture or economic policy, that set women up for the later health and other advantages correlating to their ability to remain steadily in the work force. Worse off health-wise were women whose work pathway resulted from the least autonomy, even within constrained choices: women who went through repeated periods of unemployment while seeking a for full-time job. The researchers write:

[W]omen who followed interrupted work pathways were the most disadvantaged group before becoming pregnant. Life course scholars have long argued that the disadvantages that individuals face early in life compound over time, often with deleterious effects on health and well-being.

Therefore, we should reevaluate the common question put to women asking “What kind of mom are you?” This is a prompt that only those with access to education, childcare, and transportation get to answer for themselves. For most women, as the study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior indicates, the question is what kind of mother someone had the opportunity to be, and how those opportunities impacted not only parenting, but also health. The central question we still need to ask is: what needs to be addressed to allow all women greater access at real choices?

Labor Law Attorneys

Working mothers who are experiencing difficulty collecting injury benefits from the Department of Labor & Industries are encouraged to consult a Seattle Workers’ Compensation Attorney.  The team at Emery Reddy also provides help to workers who have been required to complete an Independent Medical Examination or who need a Third Party Claim Attorney.  Our workers’ compensation consultations are always free and confidential. Contact us today.

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