Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Are working moms at fault for the world's social ills?

So, I responded to My Little Life's post about The Refeminization of America , but I did not specifically address all the social ills that she had the "gut feeling" were connected to moms being out of the home.  I did this because she specifically mentioned she's not researcher, and did not back any of her thoughts up with evidence or research.  So, I thought I wouldn't go there.

However, lots of other people believe these social ills are connected. I really start twitching when people assume cause and effect.  My Little Life has a "hunch" that working mothers caused the "decline of America" including

"increases in crime rates, divorce rates, obesity, teen pregnancies, substance abuse"

Maybe it's the nerd in me, but before you start stating things like this -- at least have your facts straight.  Also -- please forgive the nerd.  She's very feisty.

OK.  I'm going to be very, very nerdy about this.  First, we have to see if there is a correlation.  That is, do the two rates (increasing working moms and increase in the social ill) have a complementary or parallel relationship (one increases and the other also increases).  Then, we can consider if these two might have a causal relationship.  In the real world, rather than in a lab world, this is always speculative at best, but at least we can consider if it is plausible, or if other factors to consider, and if other reasonable causes that may be at play.

Working moms

So, how many working moms are out there?  Here's that the statistics say:

"In the mid-1990s, 58 percent of mothers with children under the age of six, and nearly 75 percent of those with children between the ages of six and 18 were part of the paid labor force. The number of single mothers with full-time year-round jobs increased from 39 percent in 1996 to 49 percent in 2002. A growing percentage of married women living with their husbands work as well: 40 percent worked full time in 1992, compared with 16 percent in 1970. " Source: Answers.com 

In general, the number of working moms has been increasing since the 1970s.  So, we will go with that assumption.  Agreed?

Crime rates

Increased crime rates with increased working moms:  NO correlation.

Crime rates have declined ever since the 1980s. No increases in violent crimes or property crimes.  There is lots of ideas about why the crime rates have declined so much, including 3-strikes-and-your-out and -- strangely enough -- reduced lead poisoning.

Violent crime rates for U.S. Source: Wikipedia

Property crime rates for U.S. Source: Wikipedia
Divorce rates

Increased divorce rates with increased working moms:  NO correlation. 

Divorces peaked in the 1970's.  It seems the experts agree that the increase directly related to the introduction of "no-fault" divorces.  These same experts agree that getting rid of no-fault divorces, as well as extending waiting periods during divorce, will reduce divorce rate even more.  Enjoy this article:  U.S. divorce rates returning to idyllic 1950s levels.


Increased obesity with increased working moms: Correlation.

I think anyone listening to the news knows that obesity has become an epidemic in the U.S. here's a few facts from the CDC:
Since 1980, overweight rates have doubled among children and between 1980 and 2000, obesity rates doubled among adults. About 60 million adults, or 30% of the adult population, are now obese. Obesity has tripled among adolescents – increasing the number of years they are exposed to the health risks of obesity.
OK. So, we have a correlation. Now what? So, is the most plausible cause for obesity that there are more working moms? Are there other factors at work here? Clearly, poor diet and exercise are the most direct environmental causes of obesity. But, I think that is not what we are looking for here. In terms of the research, the closest thing I found talked about "family factors." Read here:

Parent-child interactions and the home environment can affect behaviours related to risk of obesity. Family life has changed a lot over the past two decades, with trends towards eating out and greater access to television than previously. Children consume more energy when meals are eaten in restaurants than at home, possibly because restaurants tend to serve larger portions of energy dense foods. A bedroom television increases viewing by 38 min per day. By contrast, eating family dinner seems to decrease television viewing and improve diet quality (less saturated and trans fat, less fried food, lower glycaemic load, more fibre, fewer soft drinks, and more fruits and vegetables).Moreover, social support from parents and others correlates strongly with participation in physical activity. In view of these results—relating psychosocial factors to dietary and physical activity behaviours that affect energy balance—it is not surprising that children who suffer from neglect, depression, or other related problems are at substantially increased risk for obesity during childhood and later in life.
So, I didn't find a direct relationship between working moms and obesity, one can draw some relationships between working moms being too busy to prepare healthy meals, leading to more eating out and less healthy options at home. However, keep in mind that this study listed this one paragraph causal factor after several pages documenting genetic, physical activity and diet causes of obesity.

At my house, no TVs are allowed in bedrooms. No TV at dinnertime, and we eat at the dinner table every night, even when one parent is not home. But, we are not perfect. We are currently in a battle with my daughter about how many "treats" she is allowed to have each week (even though these are usually something like a sugar-free Popsicle); we have limited her to 3. She recently scribbled over the "treat calendar" in frustration. Doh.

Teen pregnancy

Increased teen pregnancy with increased working moms:  No correlation.

While the article I got this graphic from is specifically talking about a recent rise in teen pregnancies (since 2005), overall, teen pregnancies have increased into the 1980s, then decreased throughout the 1990s during the age of working moms.  Overall, there has been a decrease since the 1970s. In other words -- no correlation. 

Substance abuse

Increased substance abuse with increased working moms:  No correlation.

Apparently these kinds of statistics are hard to come by, but a study by Frontline put the numbers together from 1979 to 1998 for illegal, and that seems to suffice for our purposes of correlation.

I also found another graph from the NIH that looks at alcohol induced cirrhosis of the liver (which is indicative of alcoholism), and it has decreased as well.

Rates of Alcohol-Related Liver Cirrhosis

This nerd is done.

So, of our five social ills, only one is correlated with an increase in working moms!  Please ladies and gentlemen.  Do your homework.  Or you will unleash the nerd.


alessandra said...

I bow down in front of such a nerdness, great research.

Kristen said...

WOW! You are awesome and thank you. I was really testy after the original post last night and it bothered me all day!

Rachel M. said...

Can I just say I love your blog even more now?

My favorite academic class in college was Sociology so random "hunches" and "gut feelings" attributed to social issues make me break out into hives!

I'm also proud to be a working mom. I worked extremely hard to reach my director position and the only regret I have as a working mom is that I didn't position myself in one of the 3 states that provides paid maternity leave.

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