New findings from Harvard Business School indicate that daughters of working mothers grow up to be more successful in the workplace, both earning more and holding more supervisory positions than their peers. Sons of employed women, meanwhile, were found to contribute more to child care and household chores, enabling their wives to invest more time in their careers.
“Having an employed mother helps daughters to thrive at work and men to be more involved at home,” said Mayra Ruiz Castro, a research associate at Harvard Business School and co-author of the study.
Castro and her colleagues found that daughters of working mothers earned an average of 23 percent more than daughters of stay-at-home moms in the U.S. These women were also more likely to hold leadership positions, with 33 percent holding supervisory positions, compared to roughly 25 percent of women whose mothers did not work.
Of American men surveyed, those whose mothers were employed averaged 16 hours of domestic duties each week, nearly twice the 8½ hours spent on child care and household chores by sons of stay-at-home moms. American women, meanwhile, were found to devote more than 30 hours per week to family care, regardless of the type of household they grew up in.
“I think these findings are really amazing in the sense that usually women feel very guilty to go to work and leave their children at home or at a daycare or at school,” Castro said. “We hear very often that we might be damaging our children’s lives because we are not spending time with them or because we’re not home enough with them. But our study shows that daughters benefit from having an employed mom, and sons spend more time with their families — which at the same time could help their wives participate in paid employment and be successful as well.”
Castro said she hopes her research will help shift public attitudes about working mothers. As of 2012, just over half of all Americans believed children were better off with their mother home, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
Ellen Galinsky, president and co-founder of the Families and Work Institute, said that number will continue to decrease as it becomes more common for women to have both jobs and families.
“As it becomes more commonplace, then people’s experiences change,” Galinsky said. “They see that it didn’t really hurt them to have both parents working.”
Galinsky said the main hindrance to changing the cultural mindset about working mothers is the lack of institutional support for families without a stay-at-home parent. With paid parental leave and better access to quality child care, the shift in public attitudes would occur more rapidly, she said.
Employers can do their part as well by establishing policies that support working mothers, Castro said.
“They have to see that it’s important to support women’s employment, and the way they can support them is by creating flexible work arrangements, not only for women but also for men so they can also get move involved and take more responsibility at home,” Castro said.
However, it’s not enough to just offer flexibility or parental leave, Galinsky said. Employers need to establish a culture that enables mothers to take that flexibility and time off without fear of consequence.
“It’s not enough to have policies; you need to have policies that are valued, that are considered important,” Galinsky said. “The culture makes a big difference.”
Galinsky said companies can establish a more supportive culture by offering employee resource groups and providing women with sponsors or mentors who have managed the same situation.
“By helping women who are mothers to work and lead successful careers, it’s not just an impact only on your daughter and on your son,” Castro said. “It impacts society as a whole.”