Mercatornet 13 August 2014
Our legislators may have decided that society is better served by clever women entering the workplace, rather than staying at home to raise children, but every now and then a spanner falls into the works.
The latest challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy comes, not for the first time, from Scandanavia – a part of the world where, for all its nanny-state associations, it is still possible to question the moral and practical superiority of the working mum without being labelled a neanderthal.
Academics from the university in Stavanger have drilled into a mass of data to study the impact on a child’s educational ability of a stay-at-home parent. The context for this research is that, in 1998, the Norwegian government brought in a scheme that greatly increased parental incentives to stay at home with young children – but only up to the age of three.
What the 2013 study (pdf) found is an unforeseen consequence of this policy. It is hard to measure whether having a mum around all the time can make a toddler smarter. But having a mother at home helps more than just the small child she may have recently brought into the world.
Her being ever-present improves quality of life within and without the home, for neighbours, spouses, grandparents – and yes – older children. And, where older children are concerned, we find ourselves in territory which does have a metric; because older kids do exams.
So what is the impact of having a stay at home mum on teen-aged children doing school exams? Guess what – it’s positive. And demonstrably so. The Norwegian policy was not intended to give them a booster. It was rooted in a belief in Attachment Theory, a fear that severing the connection between a parent and a young child would be deleterious for that child.
But it turns out that the really provable benefit actually accrues to older children.