The relation between maternal employment status and the stability of attachments to mother and to father.

M. T. Owen*, M. A. Easterbrooks, L. Chase-Lansdale, W. A. Goldberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Recent investigations of the relation between maternal employment and the stability of infant attachments have implied that maternal employment introduces a stressful, unpredictable element into family life. To assess the effect of maternal employment per se, stable and changing maternal employment status were distinguished in this study. Classifications of the quality of infant-mother and of infant-father attachments were made for 59 children at 12 and 20 months of age using the Ainsworth strange situation paradigm. The stability of attachments from 12 to 20 months was examined in 4 groups defined by maternal employment status. 3 of these groups (nonemployed, part-time employed, full-time employed) were characterized by no change in maternal employment status from several months prior to the first assessment of attachment through the 20-month assessment; the fourth group was characterized by maternal employment status that changed between the 2 assessments of attachment. Among the stable conditions of maternal employment status there was no indication of differences in the stability of attachment to either parent whether the mother was employed or not, indicating that maternal employment can lend as much stability to family relationships as the condition of maternal nonemployment. No changes in the quality of attachment to mother and relatively frequent changes in attachment to father (46%) were present when mother changed employment status. The basis for this difference is discussed in terms of maternal versus paternal response to alterations in life-style initiated by mother's employment changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1894-1901
Number of pages8
JournalChild development
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1984

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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