Working Moms & Gender Equality
While many parents tell their children “you can be anything when you grow up if you just set your mind to it,” there’s a reason that the saying goes ‘actions speak louder than words.’ This especially holds true for the children of working mothers. Since 1950, the percentage of married women who are employed has jumped an incredible 50%, from 20% to 70%. At the same time, the educational gender gap – where more males were graduating from higher education than females – was reversed, meaning that more females are completing college than males, and women now have more positive educational outcomes than their male counterparts. New evidence supports that these trends are not coincidental, but rather correlated.
A study conducted by Harvard researchers of over 50,000 adults in 24 developed nations has found that women who grew up with working mothers completed more years of education, were more likely to be employed and employed in supervisory roles, and earned higher incomes than their peers who were raised by mothers who chose to stay at home. In the United States, women with working mothers earn 23% more than daughters of stay-at-home moms.
While it’s liberating to see the impact that working mothers can have on their daughters, it should not go unstated that – while the sons of working moms experience no direct career impact due to their mothers’ job choices – they’re influenced in other ways. Men who grew up with working moms have a more positive attitude toward domestic labor. In the United States, they spend, on average, 7.5 hours more on childcare and 25 minutes on more housework per week than their counterparts.
Traditionally, mothers have stayed home to raise their children due to a long-held belief that having a mother work outside the home during her child’s infancy will do more harm than good to that child’s development. Even now, 60% of Americans believe that children are better off when a parent stays at home to raise the children. Not only has that belief been disproved, more and more studies are showing that it’s better for the child’s overall development to have some freedom in decision-making, resulting in adults who are more confident, have better health, and are more satisfied in life.
Harvard Business School professor Kathleen L. McGinn stresses the importance of parents being role models for their children by setting an example for them to grow up and follow. “All of us grow up with a set of expectations about what we’re supposed to do,” says McGinn. “Role-modeling is a way of signaling what’s appropriate in terms of how you behave… and what you believe.” Think of it in terms of children of doctors who grow up and decide to be doctors; our perception of what is normal is learned, so if children see their mothers working and their fathers contributing equally to the housework, they will grow up perceiving this to be normal.
Gender equality starts at home, and “there are very few things, that we know of, that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother,” says McGinn.