by Randall Hillebrand

“Few would debate the almost mystical significance of the mother-infant bond. Research from many fields, including psychiatry, child psychology, and studies of other animal species, has confirmed our intuitive respect of the mother-infant bond. Studies have indicated that the first two years of a baby’s life are when that bond forms.”  (White 27)

Does the mother’s staying home with the child(ren) versus having a full-time job help, hurt or have a neutral effect on the family? This is the question that will be addressed in the following pages. First though, a brief history of why women went into the job force will be discussed as background to this paper.

Why Women Entered The Work Force

During World War II, the men went overseas to fight, and the women were called upon to work in the factories to keep America going.  Many mothers left the home to come to the call of their country to serve. These mothers were applauded by our culture and became the symbol of patriotism of the highest order. During this time the government set up child care programs with federal funds and many companies set up stores and hair-cutting salons right in the
industrial plants for the women’s convenience. But then the war ended.

After the war was over, the government and the private sector banded together in an enormous propaganda campaign to get women to leave the work place and return to the home. The mother-child relationship and the support of the husband and his career were stressed (Levine 65). Up until World War II, few women worked outside
of the home, the great majority of those being single. The big boom of women (including married women) joining the labor force was after World War II, starting in 1947. “Between 1947 and 1978, married women’s rate increased from 20 percent to 48 percent.” (Smith 4) (Note: these percentages are of the total amount of women joining the work force).

As previously stated, the initial reason for mothers joining the labor force was due to the war effort, which was very commendable. This was a time in history when people needed to pull together and do their part. But then after the war, for whatever the reason, the government and the private sector had a campaign to bring women, in general, back to the home. The majority of the women rebelled at this as can be seen by the union grievances filed. One study showed that 75 percent of the women wanted to continue working (Levine 66). Why was this the case? Two main reasons are usually given.

First is that of economics. As Smith says in his book, The Subtle Revolution, economists feel “that the perceived benefits of being in the labor force have been increasing, the benefits of not participating have been decreasing, or both.” (Smith 3-4) Therefore, “the ‘opportunity cost’ of staying at home all day has become too great for an increasing proportion of women.” So a choice needs to be made, “unpaid” labor in the home versus paid labor outside (Smith 3- 4).

The second reason given for women going into the labor force is given by Barbara Deckard when she said that women are “trapped in a situation that provides little opportunity for intellectual growth or the satisfactions of achievement.” (Finsterbush/McKenna 127) By this she was saying that a woman cannot find these things if she is a
housewife who has to watch after children, so she leaves the home to find that fulfillment.

This second reason is probably more of a recent thing (late 60’s, early 70’s till present), but could have its roots in the post World War II era.World War II was a special time in history that called for the mothers of this nation to give a helping hand, but in the postwar times, the mother was called back to a much more important task, that of raising our nation’s children. But the questions that need to be asked are: (1) are economics really a reason for mothers to work outside of the home, and (2) can a mother not find intellectual growth or satisfaction of achievement by being a homemaker? We will see.


“Working women are stung and enraged by the guilt-provoking suggestion that their careers are more important to them than their children; that if they loved their babies more they’d be willing to put their work aside. And full-time mothers are angered and shaken by the low esteem with which many career women regard them.” (Levine 64)

On the economical side of things, a comparison needs to be made between the homemaker and working-wife families. If the two families have the same amount of income per month, the homemaker’s family total income will be higher than the working-wife’s family income. This is due to the fact that the working-wife spends at least 15 percent of her paycheck, excluding income tax, on her work-related expenses. This 15 percent is mainly spread across such things as transportation, social security and clothing (Smith 161). Not only does this 15 percent not cover income tax, but it also does not cover child care, which can run between $40.00 to $120.00 or more per child per week. If we take it a step further, her income should also be reduced according to the amount of time that is taken away from the domestic duties that the wife no longer has time to do, which are either sent out for someone else to do or are not done at all.

It has also been shown that in the homemaker’s family they spend as much as 50 percent less on clothing, transportation, recreation, and retirement over that of the working-wife’s family; and their basic food and shelter expenditures are also slightly lower. So there is at least a 30 percent difference in income between the two families, the homemaker’s family having the higher savings (Smith 161). In many cases, the mother is going back to work so that the family will have more income for specific bills, for future purchases, or usually just for a better standard of living. But is it worth it? We will be looking at that a little later.

The other reason that mothers have left the home is for personal growth and fulfillment. They feel, according to Barbara Deckard, that they have little opportunity for intellectual growth or the satisfaction of achievement as stated earlier. Her view says, “Why should I be tied down to my family? What if I have dreams or plans for doing something more with my life? Don’t you know that childbearing is another link in the chain of men’s oppression over women? If I am with my children too much, I could damage them and scar them for life. Housework is no fun, it’s not creative nor interesting, it’s boring and never-ending, so why should I stay home doing these kinds of things, and those diapers !!?” Well, she has a point, they can be boring and tedious, but Phyllis Schlafly’s rebuttal to this is that “Marriage and motherhood, of course, have their trials and tribulations. But what lifestyle doesn’t? If you look upon your home as a cage, you will find yourself just as imprisoned in an office or a factory. The flight from the home is a flight from yourself, from responsibility, from the nature of woman, in pursuit of false hopes and fading illusions.” (Finsterbush/McKenna 115,120,124,125,127).

Why can’t a woman feel fulfilled as a mother? She can! Then why do these other women say that they are not fulfilled unless they are out of the home and in the labor force? Good question. It could be for a number of reasons. Maybe at home the husband or children or both do not appreciate the mother as much as she needs, so she looks elsewhere for it. But if this is the case, she had better beware, because she may end up working somewhere where they don’t treat her any better, maybe even worse. Possibly she has low self-esteem and just does not feel important. If this is the case, as in the first example, she needs to sit down with her family and work it out, instead of trying to find relief somewhere else. Maybe she just wants a change of pace. This too can be accomplished through part-time volunteer work, a home business, etc. What am I trying to say? That if she has unmet needs at home that are driving her to look for a job through which she thinks she will find fulfillment, she is barking up the wrong tree. She needs to get those needs met at home through her husband and children.

Phyllis Schlafly makes this point in a more specific example when she says, “If you complain about servitude to a husband, servitude to a boss will be more intolerable.” (Finsterbush/Mckenna 120) She goes on to say that “Everyone in the world has a boss of some kind. It is easier for most women to achieve a harmonious working relationship with a husband than with a foreman, supervisor, or office manager.”

(Finsterbush/McKenna 120) If the base problem is not dealt with, the problem will reoccur somewhere else. But can the home provide opportunity for intellectual growth and the satisfaction of achievement? Yes, if you truly desire it. It may take a little work, but it can be achieved. Also, raising a healthy, productive and happy family that adds to society is one of the greatest achievements a woman can obtain.

Then what about the effects of a working mother on the children and family as a whole?


“The past twenty years have brought dramatic changes in the typical American family. During this period the overall female employment rate rose by more than 50 percent (for married women with children living with their spouses, the rate doubled). Birth rates dropped by 40 percent, and divorce rates doubled.” (Kamerman/Hayes 93)

No wonder that we see the divorce rate double in the working-wife families, when there is an approximate increase of 16 percent in women having affairs in this group over the homemaker families (Norris/Miller 254). This not only affects the home of the working mother, but that of the homemaker whose husband participated in the affair with her. It can and usually does have long-reaching negative effects. It’s not a pretty picture!

What about the children of the working mother? If they are not taken care of by relatives of the family, more than likely they go to a day care. Day care centers can have a ratio of adults to infants and toddlers anywhere from one to two in the better places, or as many as ten or more infants to each staff member. The common ratio is about four to one. One of the problems that arise is that the day care industry is not a healthy one. “The work is difficult, and in
most cases the pay is very low, and the training of the providers leaves much to be desired.” (White 28) What is most likely, is that the child in the first two or three years will be exposed to numerous primary caretakers. Also infectious diseases, especially those involving hearing ability and middle ear infections are three to four times as prevalent than in the home (White 28). Some would say that it is good for the child to be in an environment like that because an
“increased sense of independence, well-being, and greater appreciation for their parents have been found to be the attributes of many of the offspring of two-career marriages.” (Swann-Rogak 6). But I disagree.

During these first years a very important process is taking place in the child’s life, that of socialization. For children this is called primary socialization in which the child develops language, individual identity, the learning of self-control and cognitive skills. Also, the child learns the internalization of moral standards, appropriate attitudes, motivations and a basic understanding of social roles (Hagedorn 87). During the most important time in a child’s life, when the foundation of his personality, morals and attitudes are laid that he will build off of for the rest of his life, we cannot just give him to a complete stranger to mold. These are the years that can either make or break
the child for the rest of his life. Can we leave this up to someone else, even a relative?

What about the working mother and the family in general. As seen above, adultery and divorces have risen due to women in the work force, but what about other problems. As I page through books for the working mother I see chapter titles like these: “Succeeding with Your Children,” “Getting Organized on the Home Front,” “Feeding the
Family,” “New ways to Be Together,” “Having a Baby,” “Keeping Your Marriage Strong” (Norris/Miller v); “How Do You Manage It All,” “I Can’t Keep Up with It All,” “This House Is a Mess,” “Where Has Our Togetherness Gone?,” “What if Something Happens When I’m Not There?,”

“I’m Tired All The Time,” “Where Does All My Money Go?,” “I Feel So Guilty” (Skelsey); etc., etc., etc.!! As can be seen from the titles, it is not easy on the family for the mother to go to work.

Many adjustments must be made, and even then it cannot be done successfully. The only real superwomen are in the comics, not in real life. This is the feeling of many professional women and can be seen in the book Mothers Who Work by Jeanne Bodin and Bonnie Mitelman on pages 52 through 58. Many trade-offs had to be made. Is it worth it?
From all of the negative effects on the children and family that have been shown in this paper, it is very easy to see that it is not. But of course I cannot make that decision for you. You need to decide!!


Bodin, Jeanne and Bonnie Mitelman. Mothers Who Work. New York: Ballantine, 1983.

Finsterbush, Kurt and George McKenna, eds. Taking Sides. Guilford: The Dushkin Publishing Group, Inc., l984.

Hagedorn, Robert, et al., eds. Sociology. Dubuque: Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers, l983.

Kamerman, Sheila B. and Cheryl D. Hayes, eds. Families That Work: Children in a Changing World. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press, l982.

Levine, Karen. “Mother vs. Mother.” Parents (June, l985): 63-67.

Norris, Gloria and Jo Ann Miller. The Working Mother’s Complete Handbook. New York: Plume, l984.

Skelsey, Alice. The Working Mother’s Guide to Her Home, Her Family and Herself. New York: Random House, l970.

Smith, Ralph E., ed. The Subtle Revolution, Women at Work.  Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute, l979.

Swann-Rogak, Lisa. “Careers.” Baby Talk (April, l985): 6.

White, Burton L. “Should You Stay Home With Your Baby?” American Baby (October, l985): 27-28, 30.