Early Maternal Employment and Children’s Later Depression: A Reverse Goldilocks Phenomenon
Concerns about how maternal employment affects the development of children continue to attract research attention. Most of the literature focuses on how maternal employment affects children’s behavioral development. However, some studies have examined the longer term impact of maternal employment on adolescent and young adult affective functioning, including risk of depression. The current study explored the relationship between maternal employment during four developmental stages and subsequent risk of depressive symptoms in young adulthood. The BDI-II, DIRI Personal Distress Scale, and measures assessing maternal employment history were administered to 452 undergraduates. Four 2 x 3 MANOVA (sex x maternal employment status [full-time, part-time, nonemployment] during the participants’ infancy, preschool years, elementary school years, and adolescence) were conducted to investigate the effect of maternal employment during each of the four stages of development on subsequent development of depressive symptoms and personal distress. A significant interaction effect showed that sons whose mothers were employed part-time during their infancy reported higher rates of subsequent depression on the BDI-II than those whose mothers were nonemployed or employed full-time. For both men and women, a history of part-time maternal employment during the child’s infancy was associated with reports of greater personal distress in young adulthood. Maternal employment during the other three developmental stages was not associated with significant differences in subsequent depression or personal distress.