To work or not to work: That is the question for many moms. Or is it? The implication of a new University of Michigan study is that, when it comes to the well-being of her children, the kind of job a woman has may be just as important as whether or not she works at all.
Children of mothers who have “bad” jobs score lower than average on standardized tests measuring math and verbal skills. The worse the job, the lower the score. Researchers Amy Hsin, a sociologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) and colleague Christina Felfe at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland) used physical risk and stress when classifying jobs.
So what classifies a job as ‘bad,’ anyway? Bad jobs included high-paying jobs that required a college degree (e.g., registered nurses, therapists, and elementary school teachers), as well as low-paying jobs that didn’t (e.g., assemblers, cleaners, nurse’s aides). Hsin says it is true, however, that the double whammy of high stress and low pay of mothers in jobs that required less education seemed to intensify the negative impact on the children’s test scores.
Nor was quantity of time the mothers spent with their children a factor. Mothers with bad jobs spent just as much time with their children as other moms. “This suggests it’s the quality of time mothers are spending with their children that suffers when mothers have bad jobs,” Hsin says. “Because they’ve had such stressful days, they may be less patient, attentive, and responsive than they would otherwise be able to be,” and it’s the type of interaction that’s affecting the child’s performance.
All is not lost if you have a bad job. Simply knowing about the risk can be an added incentive to take a deep breath, listen more closely, and say yes to the plea for one more bedtime story.
By Christine MacLean