NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Children Suffer No Harm when Mothers go to Work

March 7, 2003

Poor children are unharmed when welfare mothers take a job, according to a new study from the National Institutes of Health. In fact, researchers found the mental health of adolescent children may actually improve when moms work. This answers one of the major charges made in opposition to the welfare reforms adopted in 1996.

The study looked at preschoolers and adolescents in 2,400 families in Boston, Chicago and San Antonio and discovered that a mother's transition from welfare to work did not harm the emotional development, intellectual achievement or mental health of her children. The study also found:

  • Adolescents whose mothers had begun working reported small but "statistically significant declines in psychological distress," including symptoms of anxiety.
  • Some adolescents also registered declines in delinquent behavior -- such as the use of drugs and alcohol -- once their mothers left welfare.
  • Among preschoolers, however, neither harmful nor beneficial effects were detected once mothers became employed.

One of the more remarkable findings is that when mothers went to work, their household income nearly doubled -- and most of the families were lifted out of poverty.

Before they went to work, their average income was 35 percent below the poverty level. But with jobs, their average income was more than 25 percent above the poverty level.

The researchers found that work tended to raise mothers' self-esteem and that translated into lower anxiety levels among their adolescent children.

Source: Robert Pear, "A Welfare-to-Work Study Finds No Harm to Children," New York Times, March 7, 2003.


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