Stay-at-Home or Work: What does the research say?

In 2011, a briefing was posted for the Council on Contemporary Families regarding the effects of employment on depressive symptoms and risk of depression in mothers. Why should we care if moms are happy with the decision to stay at home or work? Why isn’t this research simply focused on test scores and prison rates for kids raised with at-home parents vs. daycare kids? I couldn’t say it any better than the brief, than the research itself:

This research is important because many other studies have found that depression is common among mothers of young children and has serious consequences for families. Children who live with depressed mothers are at risk for many behavioral, emotional, and social problems.

The brief is succinct, informative and easy to read. It can be found here ( ) and I encourage you to take a few moments to read it.

Here are the highlights:


 Women in high-quality jobs report fewer depressive symptoms than women in lowquality jobs.

 “Staying home” is associated with elevated depressive symptoms only among women who want a job.

 Women who do not have jobs and do not want them report few depressive symptoms. Their level of depression risk is comparable to women employed in highquality jobs.

 However, women who do not have jobs but want to work outside the home report elevated depressive symptoms. Their level of depression risk is comparable to women employed in low-quality jobs. (See chart and notes at end of report)

Essentially, the brief confirms what we’ve all been saying.

In short, neither employment nor non-employment is best for all mothers with young children. Instead, mental health depends on mothers’ employment preferences, and if they work for pay, their job quality

Let women choose. Let families choose what is best for them. It matters.

Choice matters.

The study is also important because it reveals the inaccuracies of arguments that all women should work for pay or that all women should stay at home. It’s not as simple as these one-size-fits-all arguments suggest.

We don’t all look the same. We don’t all parent the same. We don’t all want the same things, and you know what? That teaches our kids that they don’t have to look like, think like, or be like everyone else to make a good life for themselves and their families. It teaches our children that their happiness matters, that it impacts the people around them, and that their first responsibility is to find the balance that works for their hearts and their budgets. It teaches them to trust themselves and know with certainty that their well-being will translate to the well-being of their future children.

Happiness matters. Choice matters. Choose happiness.

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