Mothers who work full time report better mental and physical health than stay-at-home moms or women who work part time, according to a new study.
Researchers from University of Akron and Penn State University found that women who go back to work soon after having children have more energy and mobility, and less depression at age 40.
"Work is good for your health, both mentally and physically. It gives women a sense of purpose, self-efficacy, control and autonomy. They have a place where they are an expert on something, and they're paid a wage," study author Adrianne Frech, an assistant sociology professor, said in an American Sociological Association news release.
"If women can make good choices before their first pregnancy, they likely will be better off health-wise later. Examples of good choices could be delaying your first birth until you're married and done with your education, or not waiting a long time before returning to the workforce," Frech explained.
Full-time work may benefit mothers for a number of reasons, the researchers suggested. Full-time workers usually make more money, have more opportunities for promotion, increased job security and more employment benefits than women who work part time. Stay-at-home moms may be financially dependent and at higher risk of social isolation than working mothers.
The study included data on 2,540 women who became mothers between 1978 and 1995.
Yet even more than working moms or stay-at-home moms, women who were "persistently unemployed" -- those who drop in and out of the workforce, often not by choice -- reported the most health issues.
"Struggling to hold onto a job or being in constant job-search mode wears on their health, especially mentally, but also physically," said Frech. "Women with interrupted employment face more job-related barriers than other women, or cumulative disadvantages over time."
The study's authors advised young women to finish their education and work for a while before having a baby.
"Don't let critical life transitions like marriage and parenthood mean that you invest any less in your education and work aspirations, because women are the ones who end up making more trade-offs for family," said Frech. "Work makes you healthier. You will have the opportunity to save a nest egg. Also, should a divorce happen, it is harder to enter the workforce if you don't have a solid work history. Don't give up on work and education."
The researchers added that additional childcare and transportation resources for single mothers could improve their employment options.
The study took a number of factors into account that could influence health, such as pre-pregnancy employment, race/ethnicity, marital status, prior health conditions and the women's age when they had their first child.
The findings were scheduled to be presented Sunday at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in Denver. The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.