Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mother's Employment Increases Children's Health Risks

NCSU economics professor Dr. Melinda Morrill has some bad news for working moms.  In her study comparing health statistics of school-aged children with working mothers to those with mothers who stay at home, Morrill found that the children of mothers who worked were 200% more likely to be hospitalized overnight, to suffer an injury or poisoning, or to have a asthma attack.  
Morrill’s study looked at 20 years of health statistics involving approximately 89,000 children aged 7-17.  Her results differ from previous studies that indicated  children of working mothers were healthier, presumably because of higher income, greater access to health insurance, and increased maternal self-esteem.  Those studies were flawed, according to Morrill, because they had reversed cause and effect.  That is, the stay-at-home mother group had numbers of moms of children with such severe medical problems that they required full-time care or supervision, effectively eliminating the option of the mother to work outside the home.  But these children weren’t getting sick because their moms were home; their moms were home because the children were so sick.  When Morrill used advanced statistical techniques to account for such issues, she found that the opposite was actually true--that children of stay-at-home moms had highly significant better chances of avoiding injury and poisoning, hospitalization, and asthma attacks.
Morrill clearly wants to avoid setting off another “mommy war.”  She states “I don’t think anyone should make sweeping value judgements based on a mother’s decision to work or not work.”  “But,” she continues, “it is important that we are aware of the the costs and benefits associated with a mother’s decision to work.”   Apparently, one of those costs is increased health risks for the children of working moms.


  1. Thank you for the reference. I love it. This is one of the "duh, of course" studies for me - but I know we have to be careful with knowledge that seems obvious, for sometimes it's not true. Fact checking is important.

    I wonder what the difference would be if we looked at more variables. For example, following other people's schedules most of the day (which schools would do for you) or making your own schedule.

  2. Exactly. This study is interesting because it reverses the previous conclusion that children of working moms were actually healthier. But since it costs about $40 to read the study online, I don't know the details of what they looked at and what they didn't consider.

    For example, my assumption is that there would be a higher percentage of single parents among working moms than with stay-at-home moms. I would also expect a higher number of accidents among children with just one parent trying to keep up with them compared to two parents (another kind of "duh"--but this is just an assumption). But I don't know if the study controlled that factor or not. That factor could skew things the other way, just like considering the critically ill children among the stay-at-home crew skewed things the other way.

    I think the most important thing the study does is shine a light on the fact that there are costs and benefits to having both parents, or the only parent, working--just as their are costs and benefits to choosing to stay at home with a child. But as a culture, we love to just look at the benefits and not acknowledge the costs.

    I don't mean that as a judgement statement at all, particularly in regards to working moms. I know there are a lot of women who financially need to work, and a lot of women who need to work for their own psychological well-being or other needs. But I've already read some commentary on this study about "making working moms feel guilty." It's not about judging working moms or trying to make them feel guilty. It's just data that states that this may be a consequence of that decision...a consequence that, as you say, doesn't seem that surprising to me.