Maternal labor force participation during the child’s first year and later separation anxiety

Année :


Garon-Carrier G, Ansari A, Margolis R, Fitzpatrick C. (2023). Maternal labor force participation during the child’s first year and later separation anxiety. Health Education & Behavior. 50(6), 792-801.


Separation anxiety symptoms are frequent among preschool-aged children, but it is also a possible gateway for diagnosis of separation anxiety disorder. Early maternal employment after childbirth can increase the risk for the development of separation anxiety symptoms. From an economic perspective, however, securing employment is one effective strategy to ensure child well-being. This study investigated how mothers’ participation in the labor force (vs. maternal leave) and the financial state of families when the child was 5 months old was prospectively associated with separation anxiety symptoms. This study is based on 1,295 Canadian families with children assessed longitudinally from 17 months to age 6 on their levels of separation anxiety. Separation anxiety was measured during face-to-face interviews with the mothers. Maternal labor force participation, financial status, and risk factors were measured at 5 months. Results adjusted for propensity scores and for sample weight revealed that children of working mothers, despite having sufficient income (n = 245, 18.9%), were at higher risk of separation anxiety during early childhood. In contrast, maternity leave was most beneficial for children’s separation anxiety, whether they were in a family with sufficient income (n = 950, 73.4%) or temporary low income (n = 100, 7.7%). Children of mothers in maternity leave were at risk of heightened separation anxiety only if they experienced chronic economic hardship. Therefore, maternity leave uptake could help prevent the development of separation anxiety. Providing families with opportunity to care for the baby as their main occupation during this sensitive developmental period could help improve children’s mental health.