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With the emancipation of women, the classic image of a family, with defined roles for mother and father has undergone a structural change [1]. The allocation of mothers as carer of children and household, and fathers as the sole moneymaker has become outdated. What in its time was hailed the greatest achievement for women has drawn shadows and has not only affected families but also the community and society at large. The economy has adapted to an extra work force and what once was a yearned for freedom of choice has become an indispensable necessity. Dual incomes have become essential for families to attain and maintain a family lifestyle. Maternal employment has therefore morphed from a pursuit of own developmental goals, with by all means positive implications for mothers, such as personal satisfaction, rewards and income, to an imperative with challenges and a double burden [1]. One salary nowadays largely fails to accommodate for the needs of a family [1, 2, 3]. The daily demands of the working mum are a source of pressure and stress, and the price paid may come at an unwanted expense [2]. The reduced time available for spending with the family or engaged at home may have serious implications on the health of the family, in particular on that of children.

It has become evident that when women enter the workforce they have less time to devote to household, cooking, caring for their children or for leisurely pursuits; and as the household tasks and chores still largely fall to the woman in a family, it is the woman who is burdened by ‘extra’ work when she takes on an employment [2]. Therefore, because “jobs are usually designed as if workers have no caring responsibilities” [3 p.1525], working moms have to juggle household, work and childcare by themselves, or they have to rely on the help of others to accomplish all those tasks. Where families can afford to hire personnel to tend to household chores and supervise children, or have relatives available and willing to tend to their children in their absence, the challenges and pressures on parents and family are not as marked. But in the majority of families such services are unaffordable as even the incomes from two working parents frequently do not suffice to pay for such personnel [4]. This gives rise to questions. What happens if moms work odd hours and are not at home when their children come home from school? What do children do with their time? What do children eat when mum does not supply a meal at lunch or/and dinner? Do the consequences of maternal employment leave their marks on children’s health?

Research has shown that parental absence at home supports the acquisition of habits and behaviors in children that can be viewed as unhealthy [5, 6]. It has been found that children that lack supervision have inadequate nutritional food intake and practice a largely sedentary lifestyle. Where regular meal preparation is difficult because of parents working schedule, the likelihood is great that children will resort to meals outside of home. Yet even where family meals would permit the monitoring of nutritional intake, working mothers may resort to convenient foods in order to cut down time spent with the preparation of food [3]. This may in the long run impact health.

Physical inactivity and unhealthy dietary habits have been found to be principal causes of child obesity [5, 7]. The impact of such habits in child age can be the cause of poor health in later life [8]. Therefore, while a working mother may be a role model for a child’s development; maternal employment may diminish parental involvement with a child and may have lasting negative effects on his or her health [9].

Meaningful research into this topic is not exhaustive and comes to mixed conclusions. Such appraisal is difficult as the measures and parameters influential on children’s health are extensive [8]. Many questions related to the emancipation of women and its impact on family health have not yet been investigated. For example, no research was found that investigated whether working mothers resort to increased medicinal treatment in the event of a child being ill, in order to attempt to speed up the recovery to health. This may be a means mothers may resort to, as every day a mother has to stay away from work to tend to an ill child, may be a day without income. Such treatment practice potentially has a negative impact on the health development of a child.

Family stresses are another factor that can influence children’s health. The double burden and associated challenges can be cause of marital conflict [3], may create guilt and blame [3, 4], and may subsequently also instigate stresses in the parent-child relationship [4]. This raises the question if not parents seek to compensate their lack of time for their children bymeans that support health impairment, for example providing them with favourite foods albeit health concerns, or promoting an unhealthy lifestyle by permitting leisure activities that children like but that impact health negatively.

While a working mum can contribute to an improvement of the economic status of a family, it does not necessarily come at a benefit to children [4, 8]. Not only the provision of healthy meals and the monitoring of activities of children may become difficult in the absence of mum from home, but these may be crucial to children’s health. Current research has provided important insights, but has also exposed limitations [2, 6, 10], and the entire breadth of impact of maternal employment on children’s health has not yet been determined.

The economy nowadays expects women and moms to be part of the workforce. It has adapted to the emancipation of women, has created the extra jobs required [3]. Yet this has come with odd working hours, workload, frequently long travels to and from work, on top of the household and running errands, leaving little time for spending with the family. Health may therefore be one factor burdened by the lack of family friendliness in our economy. The availability of an extra income, cannot correct the damages to health in later years, that found their origin in youth due to the lack of a healthy diet and physical activity [8]. It is a vicious circle. Health needs to be cared for, and Mum plays a leading role in this accomplishment.

References:

[1] Rosenfeld, J. (1995) Impact of Maternal Employment on the health of the family [online] Current problems in pediatrics; Article retrieved September 14, 2013 at URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com

[2] Johnson, R., Crouter, A., & Smiciklas-Wright, H. (1993) Effects of maternal employment on family food consumption patterns and children’s diets [online] Journal of nutrition education 25(3); Article retrieved September 07, 2013 at URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com

[3] Strazdins, L., Korda, R., Lim, L., Broom, D., & D’Souza, R. (2004) Around the clock: parent work schedules and children’s well-being in a 24-h economy [online] Social Science & Medicine 59, pp.1517-1527; doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.01.022

[4] Ritchie, J. (1982) Child-rearing practices and attitudes of working and full-time mothers [online] Women’s Studies Int. Forum 5 (5), pp. 419-425; Article retrieved September 07, 2013 at URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com

[5] Vazquez-Nava, F., Trevino-Garcia-Manzo, N., Vazquez-Rodriguez, C. & Vazquez-Rodriguez, E. (2013) Association between family structure, maternal education level, and maternal employment with sedentary lifestyle in primary school-age children [online] Jornal de pediatria 89 (2), pp.145-150. Article retrieved September 24, 2013 at URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jped.2013.03.010

[6] Morrill, M. (2011) The effects of maternal employment on the health of school-age children[online] Journal of health economics 30, pp. 240-257.Article retrieved September 07, 2013 at URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com

[7] Anderson, P. (2012) Parental employment, family routines and childhood obesity [online] Economics and human biology 10, pp.340-351. Article retrieved September 07, 2013 at URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com

[8] Wolfe, B. & van der Gaag, J. (1982) What influences children’s health? [online] Children and youth services review 4, pp. 194-208. Article retrieved September 07, 2013 at URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com

[9] Aughinbaugh, A. & Gittleman, M. (2004) Maternal employment and adolescent risky behavior [online] Journal of health economics 23, pp. 815-838. Article retrieved September 14, 2013 at URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com

[10] Ruhm, C. (2008) Maternal emplyment and adolescent development [online] Labour Economics 15, pp.958-983. Article retrieved September 14, 2013 at URL: http://www.sciencedirect.com

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