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Working Mothers Get Words of Comfort

March 20, 1986|DOUG BROWN and DEBRA SORRENTINO LARSON | Times Staff Writer

Six years ago, a newspaper notice for a novel child-development study caught Pearl Taylor's eye. Fascinated by the prospect of predicting an infant's intellect, the former teacher volunteered her son, Benjamin.

Relaxing recently in her comfortable Sherman Oaks home, she said, "I had a hunch early on that Ben was special. He seemed to be really bright." Through the project, her hunch was confirmed, she added with a smile.

San Fernando Valley husband-wife researchers Allen Gottfried, 39, professor of psychology at California State University, Fullerton, and professor of pediatrics at USC Medical Center, and Adele Gottfried, 38, professor of educational psychology at California State University, Northridge, are directing the study of 105 7-year-olds and their families.

Besides predicting intellect in infants, the Gottfrieds' studies have measured how work practices of mothers have influenced the social, psychological and intellectual development of children.

Good News for Working Mothers

The study's principal finding is one that will no doubt make a lot of women happy: The children of working mothers have developed as well as those of non-working mothers.

"Our study tells us a lot about the resiliency of children and the flexibility of the family unit to change," said Allen, who hopes to study the 105 children through adulthood.

Contrary to fears expressed by many mothers and child-development experts, the Gottfrieds found that, in all cases of working mothers they studied, there was no evidence that work outside the home had negatively affected the social, intellectual or psychological development of their children.

For women confronting the dilemma of working or not working, Adele said: "Women can now make a choice without guilt."

Far more critical factors in healthy formation of an infant's character are family stability and exposure of infants to stimulating experiences, the Gottfrieds said during an interview in their office.

Intellectual Stimulation

"Intellectual stimulus the infant receives in the home has an especially positive effect on the child's later academic achievements," Adele said. "We're not talking about starting out reading Shakespeare to an infant or trying to get your preschooler to read at the fifth-grade level.

"A child benefits most if, at an early age, he is exposed by his mother to concepts of color, shape, numbers and placement of the letters of the alphabet."

In the Taylor household, where the mother, Pearl, 44, is a former elementary schoolteacher, and father, Sol, 54, a real estate broker with a doctorate in education and a former college professor, there are abundant books and several musical instruments such as a piano, guitar and violin. From an early age, Ben and his sister, Elana, 6, were exposed to literature and music, especially through Pearl's piano and guitar playing and her performing in vocal groups.

"I've always taken them to concerts and museums also. We've always provided stimulation," Pearl said.

The Gottfrieds, who themselves are the parents of two children, Michael, 5, and Jeffrey, 1 1/2, said their findings will be detailed in a book scheduled for publication later this year.

The Gottfrieds' findings come at a time when more than half of all women with children under age 6 work, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (When the couple began their study on children who were then a year old, only 36% of the mothers in the study worked, but during last year's complete survey of the children, who were 6, that figure had gone up to 56%.)

Women's Employment Upsurge

In the past quarter-century there has been a tremendous surge in the number of women working outside the home. Between 1960 and 1984, the percentage of married women who were in the labor force and had children under 6 rose from 18.6%, to 51.8%, with even higher percentages for those with older children and for divorced and separated women, according to Health and Human Services Department figures.

Most mothers have responded very favorably to their new roles as both breadwinners and homemakers, the Gottfrieds' study found. Four out of five mothers in the study reported that their working had had a positive effect on their children's development and family relationships.

After 13 years of teaching at elementary schools and training teachers at UCLA, Pearl left the field. "Teaching was a closed world," she said. She later worked as an executive recruiter for a personnel-search firm before meeting and marrying Sol.

When she had Ben nearly one year later, she was content to devote her time to him. "I waited until I was 37 and 38 to have these children and, if it was economically possible, I wanted to be home with them." After her children entered preschool, however, she held a few part-time jobs and did substitute teaching.

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