Working moms striving to “have it all” reap more benefits than just a paycheck — good health.

Supermums, who work full-time, are healthier than those who stay at home, work part-time or have recently been made unemployed, according to a new research by University of Akron Assistant Sociology Professor Adrianne Frech.

Frech and co-author Sarah Damaske of Pennsylvania State University examined data from 2,540 women who became mothers between 1978 and 1995.

They found that women who return to full-time work shortly after having kids reported greater mental and physical health, including greater mobility, more energy and less depression, by age 40.

Accounting for pre-pregnancy employment, race/ethnicity, cognitive ability, single motherhood, prior health conditions and age at first birth, the research revealed that the choices women make early in their professional careers can affect their health later in life.

“Work is good for your health, both mentally and physically. It gives women a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, control and autonomy. They have a place where they are an expert on something, and they’re paid a wage,” said Frech.

Rather than fuelling the “Mommy Wars” debate, which pits stay-at-home moms against working moms, Frech believes that a recently identified group — she calls this group “persistently unemployed” — deserves further attention, as they appear to be the least healthy at age 40.

These women are in and out of the workforce, often not by choice, and experience the highs and lows of finding rewarding work only to lose it and start the cycle again.

According to Frech, working full-time has myriad benefits, while part-time work offers lower pay, poor chances of promotion, less job security and fewer benefits.

Mothers who stay at home may face financial dependence and greater social isolation. Persistent unemployment is a health risk for women, as stress from work instability can cause physical health problems.

“Women with interrupted employment face more job-related barriers than other women, or cumulative disadvantages over time,” Frech said.

Frech advises young women to get an education and build a work history before having a first child.

(This article was published on August 20, 2012)
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