Low job satisfaction in working mothers increases the stress levels of their children, but allowing them to spend more time in childcare can help overcome these effects, according to new research published in Developmental Psychobiology.
Children whose mothers found their jobs emotionally exhausting or otherwise less rewarding had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol than children whose mothers reported more enjoyment from their jobs, researchers found in a study involving more than 50 nursery school children.
Levels of cortisol in the evening were more than double in the children whose mothers experienced less job satisfaction. Placing those children in childcare would help to significantly reduce their stress, the research suggests.
The researchers also found that children from families that were either highly expressive or very reserved exhibited higher than average cortisol levels.
Greater support is needed for working mothers to help improve their job satisfaction and increase the availability of affordable childcare options, says the report.
More Time in Childcare
Dr. Julie Turner-Cobb, a health psychologist and senior lecturer at the University of Bath, Dr. Christina Chryssanthopoulou from the University of Kent and Dr. David Jessop, a neuroimmunologist at the University of Bristol collaborated on the study.
To measure cortisol levels, they took saliva samples in the morning and evening from 56 children aged three to four years old. They also surveyed mothers about their workplace conditions and home life over a six-month period.
“Spending more time in childcare makes a big difference to the stress levels in children whose mothers have low job satisfaction,” says Dr. Turner-Cobb.
“It can help protect children from the effects of their mother’s low job quality and emotional exhaustion. Ensuring that mothers of young children have good support in the workplace is essential for supporting both mothers and their children,” she adds.
“Improving the job satisfaction of working mothers means that they are less stressed themselves,” says Dr. Jessop, “and extending the availability of affordable and adequate childcare may not only improve the quality of life for the mothers but, in doing so, may improve the long term health of their children.”
Healthy Adaptation to Stress
Cortisol is a steroid hormone that regulates blood pressure and cardiovascular function and immune function. It also controls the body’s use of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Cortisol secretion increases in response to stress, whether physical — such as illness, trauma, surgery or temperature extremes — or psychological. It is a normal and essential response without which we would not be able to function in everyday life.
When these levels remain high or become disrupted in some way over a prolonged period of time, however, they may have consequences for health. It is important to promote healthy adaptation to stress in children, and good quality childcare is one way of doing this, say the authors.