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Study: Working Moms Healthier, Happier

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For the first three-plus years of my son's life, I was basically a stay-at-home mom (technically speaking, I took the occasional freelance writing gig). And then, when the Terrible Two's turned into the Totally Impossible Three's, and my second baby had somehow magically morphed into a one-year-old, I went back to work full-time (talk about a shock to everyone's system). So, having been both a stay-at-home mom (who sometimes dreamed of going someplace where no one would demand I get them a cup of juice and where I might be forced to abandon my yoga pants at home) and now a full-time working mom (who often wishes making people happy were as simple as getting them a cup of juice and who yearns for her yoga pants), I'm always curious about the work choices other moms make and how they feel about them. Well, color me unsurprised, but a new study from the American Psychological Association suggests that part-time work may be a happy middle ground in the SAHM/WOHM debate. Moms with jobs—either full- or part-time—tend to be healthier and happier than those who stay at home with their kids and don’t work during their children’s infancy and preschool years, found the study, which was published in the December issue of the APA’s Journal of Family Psychology.

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Interestingly, while the researchers found no difference in the health of moms who worked part-time (identified as working between one and 32 hours per week) versus those who worked full-time, they did find that moms who worked part-time felt less conflicted between work and family than those who worked full-time, presumably leading to less stress and greater happiness. Working moms overall reported fewer symptoms of depression and were more likely to rate their health “excellent,” compared with moms who didn’t work. Researchers suggested that stay-at-home moms of very young children may be more socially isolated than working moms, which may increase their chances of being depressed.

Plus: Working Moms Multitask (and Stress) More than Working Dads

The study’s findings are based on interviews, starting in 1991, with 1,364 mothers (24 percent of whom were from ethnic minorities) from Arkansas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. Throughout the span of the study, about 25 percent of the moms were employed part-time, although they moved in and out of part-time work. Researchers interviewed the women throughout their kids’ infancy, preschool years and into elementary school—and found that the differences disappeared when children entered preschool.

Plus: Do You Want to Know About Baby Milestones You’re Missing?

Moms who worked part-time reported being just as involved in their kids’ schooling as stay-at-home moms and were, not surprisingly, more involved than moms who worked full-time (seriously, there are only 24 hours in a day, said this full-time working mom of two preschoolers).

The study's limitations include that it only looked at one child in the family and at work hours specifically—not other employment-related factors like professional status, work commitment or scheduling flexibility.

Moms, what’s your current employment status? Are you happy with it?