Working mum, do not feel guilty - your job does not compromise the health of your child

There is no reason to run home to your kids in the middle of the afternoon. A comprehensive European research project headed by Associate Professor Wencke Gwozdz breaks with the notion that children's health is compromised when both parents have full-time jobs.

In the USA, mothers with full-time jobs have been cited as one of the reasons the explosion in child obesity. The general opinion is that if mothers are at work, they spend less time at home and do not have time to make healthy meals for their kids, and they do not have time to make sure that their children exercise either. New research published in the scientific journal, Journal of Health Economics, however, shows that a full-time job does not strain the health of European children.

- Our studies show that it does not matter whether mothers work or not. So mothers who work should not feel guilty, says Wencke Gwozdz, Associate Professor in Consumer Behaviour and Sustainability at Copenhagen Business School and one of 13 researchers behind this study.

The study, which included more than 16,000 European children from Italy, Spain, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary and Sweden, showed that children with working mothers did not have larger waistlines, a higher body fat percentage or were less physically active.

Women can buy time with their children
When mothers have jobs, they earn money to buy time with their children. This is one explanation that children's health are not that compromised by their mothers' jobs.

- Studies show that working mothers do not have less quality time with their children when they work - it remains stable. Mothers can afford cleaning assistance, dishwashers and cars - all remedies that help to buy time with the children. The family can afford to buy healthy food, the children can go by car to leisure activities, so that they do not sit in front of the TV instead. And fathers also spend more time with their children today, says Wencke Gwozdz.

Another aspect of this issue is that mothers who work often have an education. Education generates knowledge that benefits the children - for instance knowledge about how healthy meals are made. The socio- economic status of the families is very important in the issue of child obesity, says the researcher.

Institutions impact the health of children
Studies among Americans and Brits demonstrate a link between child obesity and working mothers. According to Wencke Gwozdz, the difference lies in the life style and social structure of Americans and Brits, which is not similar to the Continental-European life style.

- Working mothers in the USA and Great Britain struggle more than European mothers. There is less public support for child care, and the offered child care is not as good as in Europe. And they have a different life style. For instance, the Americans make larger servings. And when the food is on the plate, you eat it, says Wencke Gwozdz.

In Europe, it pays to look at the children's institutions to eliminate child obesity, says Gwozdz.

- So it is not a matter of women staying home or not. It is a matter of knowing how to improve child care institutions and how parents learn to give their children better eating habits. Sweden is a role model, since it is mandatory for schools and kindergartens to serve food that meets special health regulations, says Wencke Gwozdz. 

Original publication:

Gwozdz W, Sousa-Poza A, Reisch LA, Ahrens W, Eiben G, M Fernandéz-Alvira J, Hadjigeorgiou C, De Henauw S, Kovács E, Lauria F, Veidebaum T, Williams G, Bammann K. (2013) Maternal employment and childhood obesity – A European perspective. Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32 (4), 728-742.