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exaggerated hopes and fears for the consequences of mothers’ employment for children may be unfounded

Being a working mother work does not affect your children’s early vocabulary and reasoning, new research from the University of Cologne reveals, contrary to popular opinion.

Children from similar family backgrounds develop comparable vocabulary and reasoning abilities even if their mothers’ work histories in the first five years after birth differ vastly.

Dr Michael Kühhirt from the Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology at the University of Cologne and Dr Markus Klein from the University of Strathclyde found that exaggerated hopes and fears for the consequences of mothers’ employment for children may be unfounded, at least with regard to early language acquisition and cognitive ability.

“Potential benefits and risks of mothers’ employment for child development are the subject of heated scientific and public debate,” says Dr Kühhirt. “But when it comes to the cognitive measures under study here, we found no evidence of harmful effects on the children of working mothers. This is an important implication given universal attempts to increase the number of working mothers.”

These results are based on 2,200 children of the Growing Up in Scotland study, who were followed from roughly 10 months after birth until around their fifth birthday.

The study was novel in that it looked at the relation of mothers’ employment with children’s development not only at one particular time point but it compared the effects of different employment patterns over time. This is important because any impact of maternal employment is likely to unfold after a longer period of exposure.

The researchers speculate that differences in the developmental outcomes at age five, for the most part, seem to be driven by characteristics such as mothers’ education and family structure.


For more information, a copy of the study, or to speak with Dr Kühhirt, please contact Stephanie Mullins at or call +44 (0)1582 790 706.

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