Study: Stay-at-Home Moms at Greater Risk for Depression Than Working Moms

Can part-time work increase the chances of full-time happiness for modern moms?  So suggests a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

"In all cases with significant differences in maternal well-being, such as conflict between work and family or parenting, the comparison favored part-time work over full-time or not working," the study's lead author, Cheryl Buehler, a professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said in a statement released by the APA.

Buehler and co-author Marion O'Brien, a colleague at UNC-Greensboro, analyzed interviews conducted with more than 1,300 moms. Among their findings:

* Part-time working moms and full-time working moms reported better health and fewer symptoms of depression than stay-at-home moms.

* Part-time working moms were as involved in their child's school as stay-at-home moms, and more involved than full-time working moms.

* Part-time working moms provided their toddlers with more learning opportunities than both stay-at-home moms and full-time working moms.

With respect to the finding on depression, Buehler and O'Brien's report stated that, theoretically, "a mother's participation in employment provides her with support and resources that a mother who spends full time at home does not receive." They said mothers of infants and pre-school age children, in particular, tended to be more isolated than women with school-age children and could experience higher levels of child-related stress.

The study's results come as no surprise to part-time working moms like Susan Baker of Dallas.  Since 2006, Baker, now 57, has been working 30-hour weeks as an accounting contractor. Baker traded in an impressive title - she once worked as an executive vice president of finance - to spend more time helping her teenage son overcome learning disabilities. (Her son has since graduated, and was valedictorian of his high school class.)

Baker's most recent contracting job came from MomCorps,  a staffing firm specializing in finding flexible work for moms.

"It has been perfect for me," she said. "I love accounting work, I like being with other people. … I really wasn't willing to give all of that up even though I really knew I needed to spend time with my family and work with my son, but I still wanted that personal feeling of accomplishment that comes from doing a job well."

Susan Baker poses with her daughter on a trip to Italy. Baker said her decision to give up her full-time job as an executive to work as a part-time accountant has been great for her family. (Courtesy Susan Baker)

In their report on the study, UNC's Buehler and O'Brien said employers could help more people - mothers and fathers alike - take advantage of the health and family benefits of part-time work by making part-time jobs more attractive.

"Since part-time work seems to contribute to the strength and well-being of families, it would be beneficial to employers if they provide fringe benefits, at least proportionally, to part-time employees as well as offer them career ladders through training and promotion," O'Brien said.

Read the full study here.