Who's Happier -- Working Moms or SAHMs? A New Study Has the Answer (Not That It's a Competition)

As a working mom, I often feel like I’m slacking at both of my jobs. (Don’t even get me started on that whole wife gig.). A new study offers good news for gals like me trying to balance a career and a family: It turns out mothers who work outside the home are healthier and less depressed than those who don’t. (Um, hello? Maybe it’s because they get to shower regularly and enjoy the occasional adult conversation.)

The researchers studied 1,364 moms over a ten year period, dividing them neatly by work profile: Career gals, part-time breadwinners and stay-at-home caregivers. Not surprisingly, the part-timers seemed to be categorically reaping the greatest benefits of their combined worlds. Specifically moms who divide their time between kids and career suffer less depression and enjoy better general health than moms who don’t work (see the bit about showering and conversation above), have more school involvement than their full-time peers (because when you work part-time you can probably attend at least a handful of the 37 functions, field trips and class extravaganzas on your kid’s calendar every month) and offer more learning opportunities to their children than either of the other two groups (perhaps because going to the zoo or museum is a treat, not a chore?). According to study author Cheryl Buehler, when it came to maternal well-being, the comparison favored part-time work over full-time or not working in every category across the board. The findings were published in the December issue of the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Family Psychology.

I am one of the lucky part-timers. Well, I probably work forty hours a week but I can log them at my leisure so frequently I toil in the wee hours of the morning and late at night and on weekends so I never have to miss a potluck picnic or apple farm field trip. I might moan when I’m asked to bake cupcakes for another class party or help paint the backdrop for the school play, but believe me I realize how lucky I am that I have both a) the option to even consider participating (my ER nurse, district attorney and hairstylist friends don’t have that luxury) and b) a legitimate hall-pass when I can’t.

Co-author Marion O’Brien feels the research supports the need for greater benefits for part-time workers: "Since part-time work seems to contribute to the strength and well-being of families, it would be beneficial to employers if they provide fringe benefits, at least proportionally, to part-time employees as well as offer them career ladders through training and promotion,” O’Brien told ScienceDaily. I couldn’t agree more. I’m over here trying to do it all and have it all and enjoying very few professional perks (beyond the aforementioned flexibility).

I’m trying to earn money for my family, spend time with my children, and contribute productively to society all at the same time. Doesn’t that deserve decent health insurance coverage and a paid holiday or two?

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