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More Moms Leaving Work For Kids; More Sleep, Less Stress For Kids

Aired March 14, 2002 - 09:18   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: One of our big questions this hour: why are more moms staying at home? The latest census report says staying at home has become the career of choice for a growing number of working mothers. 55 percent of women with children less than one year old were in the work force in June of 2000. That is down from 59 percent in 1998.

While that's hardly a flood of women leaving work, it is the first decline after 25 years of steady growth. So, why are more women now choosing family over the workplace, and will the trend continue?

Joining us now, Dr. Marcia Kropf, vice president at Catalyst, a nonprofit research group focusing in on women in the workplace. And joining us from Richmond, Virginia this morning, Dr Jennie Webb Wright, a woman who left her career as a doctor to stay at home to be a mom.

Good to see both of you, welcome. Good morning.

So, Dr. Kropf, I would love to start with you this morning and have you reflect on this latest Census Bureau statistics, which shows this first drop in over two years of women leaving the work force. Do you see this as the beginning of a trend, or just a blip?

MARCIA KROPF, VICE PRESIDENT, CATALYST: Well, this is definitely a slight decline, and we have no way of knowing whether it's a short- lived blip, or whether it's some kind of ongoing trend. What we do know is it's related to a group of women who have choices, women who are more experienced, women who are more educated, and women who have living with a husband, and those make up the 4 percent of women in that decline. These are women with financial resources.

ZAHN: So how much do you need to factor in the fact that so many women in America are delaying childbirth and pursuing their careers first and then having families?

KROPF: Well, I think that's a very important factor, because these older women I refer to are first-time mothers, and they are making this choice to stay at home with their infant children. What we don't know is whether it is a choice for now, while their children are infants and preschoolers, or whether it is a choice over the long term. Because these women are, as I said, more educated and experienced, they may feel more confident about their ability to move back into the workplace later on.

ZAHN: Dr. Wright, you were a practicing physician until just about two years ago, and you made the decision to stay home with your children. Were you at all conflicted about making that decision?

JENNIE WEBB WRIGHT, FORMER PRACTICING PHYSICIAN: Oh, it was a very hard decision. It took me a long time to make it, and I really have experience, sort of, in all different ways of being a mother. I was -- I had my first child when I was working almost 80 hours a week sometimes, and then I had my second child when I was working part time, and at that time I really had the perfect job. I had just what I had asked God for, I was working 30 hours a week with a wonderful practice partner who did a lot of my call for me, and yet even that just wasn't -- I realized that was not enough, that I really wanted to be home full time.

ZAHN: So that then was the final breaking point where you said, look, I have had enough, I am just going to quit?

WRIGHT: Yeah, I finally came to that. It was a very slow process, and there was -- various things in my life that led up to that, one of which -- Jim and I went to a conference that focused on the family that was for physicians to help them balance their family and career, and it was all, you know, conferences about how to do that, and we just did a lot of soul-searching there, and got a lot of great answers, and reprioritized, and decided that, for our family, the best thing was for me to be home full time. And, even once I realized that was the right decision, it took me a while to actually do it. It was like jumping off a cliff with no turning back, and it was really hard when I finally did it.

ZAHN: I think it's difficult for any woman to make that decision, but particularly after the number of years you not only spent in school, but in residency, and practicing medicine. Do you see yourself ever going back to work?

WRIGHT: I -- honestly, I have no idea, because I just have to, right now, I know I'm happy, and I know I'm doing the right thing, and I feel like the Lord led me here, and he is going to take care of me down the road, and I don't know what that is going to be, but I know right now, I'm in the right place.

ZAHN: And Dr. Kropf, I would imagine that the statistics, at some point, have got to reflect that. Either women like Dr. Wright going back into the work force, or those simply saying no, I've made my decision, I'm comfortable with it. I'm going to be a stay-at-home mom.

KROPF: Well, over time, we will see exactly what will happen. I will say that Catalyst did a long-term study of women that we first interviewed in 1989, and we went back 10 years later to talk to those women, and each of those women was looking for an individual path, an individual set of solutions, an individual approach to how they balance their work and family, and we see that in many of our studies. So, each woman has to come to this, and make their own decision. ZAHN: Well, it is a critical balancing act for moms and dads, and I think one that all working parents face today. Dr. Kropf, thanks for your insights this morning, and Dr. -- Dr. Kropf and Dr. Wright, thank you for being so honest with us this morning. Good luck with your kids.

WRIGHT: Thanks.

ZAHN: In other health news this morning, the answer to this very difficult question: do you want another reason to send your kids to bed early? Like you need one. Well, a new study shows that parents can lower the stress in their kids' lives when bedtime comes by 9:00 PM.

CNN's Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now from Atlanta with that and other health news this morning. Elizabeth, as I heard about this story this morning, I was thinking about us with our little kiddies and I laughed out loud, saying yeah, right...


ZAHN: ...having the kids in bed by 9:00. Only on a good night would that ever happen.

COHEN: I'd say a good night in the Cohen household is 10:00. My husband and I are like, Hey, they got to bed by 10, isn't that great?

ZAHN: So proud of ourselves. So, how meaningful is this study?

COHEN: Well, you know, the study makes sense to me, just sort of on an instinctive level. What they did is they took third grade girls, and they say who went to bed before and after 9:00, and they gave them tests, and they found that the girls who went to bed before 9:00 did better on the tests than the girls who went to bed after 9:00.

Now, I have to say the first word that occurred to me when I read this was, Duh. You know, it just makes sense. The more sleep the kids get, the better they are going to do. I mean, I just know from my own children, I am sure you do from yours, that the more sleep they get, the better behaved they are, the less cranky they are, the more they can sort of focus on what they are doing. And I think it is just another reminder that even though it is fun sometimes to keep your kids up late, then, but it still -- you know, you are going to pay for it, or they might pay for it later.

Another study, though, that's coming out, sort of at the same time says that each kids are different, that even siblings who are similar in age are different, that some kids need more sleep than others. So, I think that one thing that parents need to remember is that there aren't absolute rules about this, that some kids need to go to bed earlier than others.

ZAHN: No. And the homework load changes substantially between 6th grade and 7th grade, I might add, so when you got kids across American doing two to three hours of homework, that substantially changes their bedtime hour.

Now, on to issue of exercise. Is it true that if we exercise, it might help us live longer?

COHEN: Well, that's what this study says, and we ran it by another expert, who was not involved with the study, and he said, yes, this study made sense to him. What it is is that this -- these researchers took a large group of men, some of whom had had heart disease, some of whom hadn't, and they gave them a treadmill test to see how they did, and then they followed them for 15 years, and what they found was that how they performed on that treadmill test was a very, very good predictor for how long they lived.

In other words, the men who did well on the treadmill test tended to live longer than the ones who hadn't. And, so, what this says is that exercise is a very good predictor of how long you are going to live. How much you can exercise is a good predictor of how long you live.

ZAHN: Oh, great. Yet another thing to feel guilty about.

COHEN: Another reason to exercise. Don't feel guilty, just get out there and exercise.

ZAHN: All right, thanks Elizabeth. I'll walk across the set a little later on this morning.

COHEN: There you go.


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