Kathleen McGinn
Harvard Professor Dr. Kathleen McGinn

With the shift in gender roles, many children are no longer being raised primarily by their mothers. With dual income families increasing in popularity, child care is often outsourced to a neighbor, grandparents, or a nanny. But what is the effect on children?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, growing up with a working mother is unlikely to harm children socially and economically when they become adults. The working mother study, authored by Harvard Business School professor Kathleen McGinn, HBS researcher Mayra Ruiz Castro, and Elizabeth Long Lingo of Mt. Holyoke College, found that women with working mothers performed better in the workplace, earning more and possessing more powerful positions than their peers with stay-at-home mothers.

In the United States, adult daughters of working mothers earned 23 percent more than those whose mothers had not worked during their during the daughters’ childhoods, earning an annual average income of $35,474 compared to $28,894. Over 33 percent held supervisory positions, compared to roughly 25 percent of their counterparts from more traditional households.

The “working mother effect” actually improves future prospects, especially for adult daughters of mothers who worked outside the home before their daughters were 14 years old, according to recent findings based on a comprehensive survey of 50,000 adults aged 18 to 60 in 25 nations worldwide in 2002 and 2012.

This week we interview one of the leading researchers in the HBS Gender Initiative, Harvard Professor Dr. Kathleen McGinn. One of the main goals Harvard Business School wants to achieve with the Gender Initiative is to ground discussions about gender in rigorous research so that people can make better- informed decisions for themselves, their families, their companies, and their communities. 


“There is a slight positive effect for maternal employment on children’s achievement in school and on their behavior in school.”

– Kathleen McGinn

Quotes from Kathleen:

[shadowbox]“When you ask a woman to tell you about herself as a leader, gender often comes up. When you ask a man to tell you about himself as a leader, gender never comes up.”

“People who are in the majority don’t think of the dimension on which they are in the majority. That makes it harder to understand the experience of those who aren’t in the majority.”

“By 1990, women were about 50% of the graduating classes, and now women are greater than 50% of the graduating classes of most of the colleges in the US.”

“Women are much more likely to be employed when there is good quality child care available. In the US there is not great child care available, and what is available is really expensive.”

“If the cost of having your kids in childcare is more than you make, or more than you take home, it’s a losing enterprise. And that’s the situation of most of the families in the US.”[/shadowbox]

What we learn in this episode:

  • What does gender mean to a “white, middle-class male”?
  • Is it a good idea for a corporation to set a quota for number of employed minorities and women?
  • Are children raised by stay at home moms happier?


HBS Gender Initiative

Women and Public Policy Website

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