Working mums less likely to be depressed than stay-at-home mums

Mothers who work are significantly less likely to suffer from depression than those who stay at home, according to new research.

Mothers who work are significantly less likely to suffer from depression than those who stay at home, according to new research.
The study by Dr Susan Harkness of the University of Bath will be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2012 annual conference next week.

The study also challenges the idea that depression among women, which has been on the rise internationally since the 1970s, is linked to the rise in female employment. It shows work is associated with a substantial reduction in depression among mothers.

Dr Harkness says: ‘My research suggests that supporting mothers at work matters for reasons over and above any financial gains to employment.

‘In recent months, employment data have shown that twice as many women as men have lost their job. At the same time, budget cuts have reduced the support for childcare, making work less affordable for many women.

‘For those on lower incomes, the introduction of the universal credit in 2013 will further diminish work incentives for many women whose partner is employed.’

She concludes: ‘A continuing weak job market and current policy reforms are likely to push up the rate of maternal depression in the coming years.’

The research, which analyses data from the British Household Panel Survey, looks at changes in the relationship between work and mental health between 1993/98 and 2003/08. The General Health Questionnaire is used to identify those at a high risk of depression.

The research finds that work, whether full-time or part-time, has a much more significant effect on depression than income. This suggests that the role that work plays in providing a sense of identity and self-esteem, which has been widely reported for unemployed men, matters for mothers too.

But the research found job quality also matters. Mothers in managerial and professional occupations see larger and more significant improvements in their mental health as a result of working than those working in, for example, sales or personal services, according to the study.

But even in less skilled occupations, being in work has either no effect, or a small but positive effect, on reducing the risk of depression.

The research also shows the number of hours worked has little impact: mothers in both full-time and part-time work have a similarly lower risk of depression – 6% less than mothers who stay at home.

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