What was the control?

A recent study at Columbia University found that children raised by working mothers were no worse off in cognitive ability than children of working mothers. It was decided that the added family income compensated for less parantal care. I want to know how they made the comparison.

Let me take a hypothetical example. Two married mothers whose husbands make exactly the same income have children. Child care is expensive and the decision to work is based partly on income. Woman A is better educated or more intelligent than woman B (or both.) When woman A works she makes enough money to cover child care, transportation, her working wardrobe, and still have a reasonable amount of money left over. Woman B discovers she is working full time to make very little net gain of income. She stays home, because it is hardly worth her while to work. She cuts coupons, shops sales and makes do, but she is not a working mother.

In the ordinary course of events we would expect Woman A’s children to do better, because their mother is brighter. If my comparison is unreasonable, because there are bright women who choose to stay home, ask what it is about them that caused them to make that choice. No one randomly selected women and told half to be stay-at-home mothers and half to be working mothers. We don’t know if the very thing that caused them to make that decision might have an impact on the children’s intelligence.

The study might have yielded valid results, but it might not have, because there are too many variables that it is impossible to account for. We still don’t know if working mothers raise children who are less intelligent.


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