Monday, May 18, 2015 at 4pm

Working Mothers Are Positive Influence Says HBS Study: MBA News

HBS study analyzes experience of those raised by working mothers

Working mothers are a positive influence on the professional lives of their children, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard Business School (HBS).

The study analyzed aspects of the professional lives of children who had seen their mother go to work at some point in their childhood (up until the age of 14) across 24 countries. In these countries – defined as developed nations - the daughters of working mothers were more likely to have professional careers of their own and indeed, turned out to have a greater chance of attaining a higher or ‘supervisory’ role and to earn a higher wage.

In the assessment, the presence of working mothers in the home led to a rise of 3% in female employment (from 66% to 69%) and a 4% increase in supervisory roles held (from 18% to 22%). A 6% rise in salaries earned was also found.   

“There are very few things, that we know of, that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother,” said Kathleen McGinn, a business administration professor at Harvard Business School, who conducted the study with a researcher at HBS, Mayra Ruiz Castro, and Elizabeth Long Lingo of Mount Holyoke College.

The study’s findings are set to help launch a new gender initiative at Harvard Business School this week, according to a report in The New York Times.  

Results can address parental guilt says Harvard Business School professor

The sons of working mothers, meanwhile, saw no effect on their earning power in the HBS study. However, they were found to be more likely to share in household responsibilities – with many presumably seeing this become the norm, as children, in the periods when their mothers were working.

On the whole, the study appears to provide a strong vindication that parents can positively influence their children by showing them what can and can’t be done with regards to professional life and in the sharing of household responsibilities.

“There’s a lot of parental guilt about having both parents working outside the home. But what this research says to us is that not only are you helping your family economically—and helping yourself professionally and emotionally if you have a job you love—but you’re also helping your kids,” said McGinn.

There is a question as to whether it is the act of a mother going to work that is the chief influencer here, rather than, say, the mother’s educational background, but McGinn says dozens of tests were run before she was convinced that this was the main factor behind the results. 

The HBS study took data from two surveys (dating to 2002 and 2012) carried out by social science research consortium, the International Social Survey Programme, and supplemented it with figures indicative of female employment opportunities, labor force participation and gender inequality in each country. In total, the surveys extended to more than 30,000 women and men combined.

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Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).