Wave goodbye to another parenting myth: Children whose mothers go out to work do not suffer academically

 

Children’s academic performance is not harmed if their mothers work during the first years of their lives, comprehensive research seen by The Independent shows.

A new analysis of six studies looking at 40,000 children over the past four decades has provided conclusive evidence that there is no link between mothers continuing their careers and children going on to achieve less at school, debunking a common parenting myth.

Those born in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s whose mothers worked during their early years had, on average, slightly lower literacy and numeracy scores than those whose mothers did not. However, analysis of three successive studies of children born since the mid-90s shows this disadvantage has disappeared for younger generations.

The study’s findings will be discussed today – at the same time as Parliament debates controversial proposals to cut the ratio of childcare workers to children, a move which Labour says could reverse the progress made. Children born in 2000 or 2001 showed no significant difference in cognitive ability or behaviour at the age of five whether their mothers had gone out to work or not in their first year. Studies of previous decades showed children’s literacy and numeracy levels were around two percentage points lower when mothers worked.

The research was welcomed by parenting groups, who said it would put an end to the “emotional baggage” many mothers face when going back to work. Professor Heather Joshi, of the University of London’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, who wrote the report, said: “There has traditionally been a concern that the employment of mothers comes at the expense of child development. But as the percentage of mothers in work has gone up, any impact on children has diminished.”

Professor Joshi said this “generational change” coincided with an expansion of childcare under the Labour government. “The most obvious thing that changed in the 90s was the New Labour government, which started taking childcare seriously as an area of public concern. In the 80s, childcare was either something that only very rich families could purchase or very poor families got offered because their child was at risk, so everyone else in the middle had to make do with informal arrangements.”

Alluding to the potential impact of the Government’s proposed changes to childcare, she added: “This wouldn’t have happened without a big expansion of childcare and if anything happens to funds available for childcare, there may be consequences.”

Children born after 2000 were the first to benefit from universal early years teaching as well as better maternity leave. More than 90 per cent of those children had some kind of formal education between three and five, compared to “around 40 or 50 per cent” in the 80s, Professor Joshi said.

The findings come ahead of a debate in the Commons today over proposals to increase the number of children looked after by each childcare worker. Last Wednesday, Nick Clegg said the changes would not go ahead – but No 10 insists no final decision has been made. Labour will table a vote in the Commons today to protect the current childcare ratios. Sharon Hodgson, shadow minister for Children and Families, said the research demonstrated the “great strides” Labour made in raising the quality of childcare. “The Government’s plans to cut the number of staff needed to look after children risk putting those improvements into reverse,” she added.

Fiona Weir, chief executive of the single-parent charity Gingerbread, said: “We welcome this research, which should put an end to some of the emotional baggage for parents who are making the decision. It’s clear that the changes in maternity leave and greater availability of childcare have played a big role in enabling parents to balance work and family. However, for single parents in particular, the crippling cost of childcare and a shortage of family-friendly jobs are making it very difficult for those who do want to return to work.”

But Professor Joshi warned that while the evidence found no academic effects on children from mothers’ employment, this was not absolute proof of no harm being done under any circumstances. “Parents still take care about their responsibilities and should be encouraged to proceed with caution,” she said.

The research will be presented in central London today at a Campaign for Social Science event on longitudinal studies attended by David Willetts, minister for Universities and Science. On the proposed childcare reforms, a Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Parents want to be able to go out work confident in the knowledge that their children are being well looked after. Quality is central to our childcare reforms which will give parents more choice and ensure their young children have the best start in life.

“We have ensured all three- and four-year-olds can access 15 hours a week of free early education and are extending this entitlement to two-year-olds from low-income families. We are also introducing early years teachers, attracting top graduates by extending Teach First into the early years, and offering bursaries to encourage talented school-leavers into early years apprenticeships.”

Case study: My boy’s very active with his childminder

Aimee Painter, 30, and her son, Morgan, seven, from Cardiff

"It’s a relief to know that working doesn’t have any detrimental effect. Morgan was about three when I started training to go back  to work. I had previously  been in the pub industry  and trained for the job I have now as a receptionist and administrator. His dad was never on the scene and when  I made the decision to go  back to work, I felt it was time to start earning and get a bit of a life.

“When Morgan was younger he went to nursery and now I drop him off at the childminder before school and pick him  up there afterwards. My childminder doesn’t just sit  him in front of the television; they go to the park or the library and in the holidays he goes to museums.

“I try to spend whatever time I can in the evening helping him with his reading and homework. Sometimes I do feel guilty that I’m not  there to see his music assembly, or things like that, but if they’re happy at the childminder and are learning and interacting with other children, then that’s good.”

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Senior Research Fellow in Water and Resilient communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: Our team of leading academic...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Needs Teaching Assistants...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker