I strongly believe the benefit is for women, as long as they have the tools and strategies to meet the challenges of being working mums, and to cope with setbacks when they happen.
Of course the tax and benefits system benefits from women working, as does the economy as a whole. Research shows that the UK could boost its GDP by 9 percent (£170bn) if it could increase the number of women in work. Although the UK’s overall female employment rate is higher than the OECD average, many women are struggling to return to work after having children or career breaks. ONS data show that there are 1.5m women in the UK who want to work more hours than they currently do.
"The top benefits cited of going back to work included independence and the means to earn a living, confidence, their sense of identity and financial security."
As long as they know how to do it right, women stand to gain enormously from going back to work after having a baby. They benefit more financially and, for many, they benefit more emotionally than they would from staying at home.
I interviewed working mums for my professional research and the top benefits cited of going back to work included independence and the means to earn a living, confidence, their sense of identity and financial security. Other benefits of working included the camaraderie of the workplace, the intellectual stimulation and challenge of work and being a role model for their kids.
Conversely I meet many stay at home mums whose children are now older and their key concerns are a lack of confidence, lack of independence and loss of sense of identity beyond being a parent. So, if you are lucky enough to have a choice, making the decision to give up work needs to be done in an informed way. That means looking at the bigger picture, thinking not just about now and how lovely it would be to be at home all day with a baby, but long into the future when your kids are older.
"A stay-at-home mum who feels isolated, exhausted and depressed is unlikely to have such a positive effect on her family as a working mum who, no matter how busy and tired, feels independent, confident and fulfilled."
As for what’s more beneficial to children, it’s a tricky one. Those who stay at home feel it’s best for their children. But is it? It depends on the circumstances. A stay-at-home mum who feels isolated, exhausted and depressed is unlikely to have such a positive effect on her family as a working mum who, no matter how busy and tired, feels independent, confident and fulfilled. There’s certainly no obvious disadvantage to having a mum who works. Indeed, according to a Harvard Business School study with data from 24 countries, the daughters of working mums have better careers and higher pay than mums who stay at home. And working mums’ sons grow up to be better men who take more time caring for their own family than men who grew up with a stay-at-home mum.