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School of Business and Management

'Intensive motherhood' can lead to lower levels of happiness

A recent study by Professor Almudena Sevilla from the School of Business and Management at Queen Mary University of London, and Jose Ignacio Gimenez from the University of Zaragoza, has found that better educated US mothers who engage in interactive child-rearing report a lower level of happiness than less well educated mothers when they are engaged in parenting activities.

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The long-term educational benefits to the children are well established, however the study suggests that there may be a link between what we currently regard as ‘best parenting practices’ and a more miserable experience of motherhood.

‘Intensive motherhood’ involves plenty of intellectually stimulating activities such as reading, conversation and reasoning exercises. This type of mothering is often accompanied by an active extra-curricular timetable, and sees university educated mothers spending 1.5 more hours each week on developmental child care activities than non-university educated mothers. Although the study focuses on the happiness levels of mothers, it is known that maternal depression can impact on the wellbeing of the children.

Professor Sevilla notes that “the divergence in child care time across maternal education has been claimed to be one of the factors behind the diverging destinies of children born to mothers from different educational backgrounds. Recent policy interventions aimed to encourage less-educated parents to increase the time they spent with their children. By looking at maternal momentary well-being while engaging in child care activities my research moves the debate beyond the quantity of time, and proposes a wider conceptualization of maternal time that can be used as an important policy lever for improving children’s development as well as mothers’ well-being”.

More details can be found on the Child and Family Blog and on the BBC radio programme, The Newsroom. You can also find the full paper online: Intensive Mothering and Well-Being: The Role of Education and Child Care Activity.