Working mothers are plagued by depression, anxiety, and burnout at higher rates than both working fathers and coworkers without children. Adding insult to injury, mental health issues are the leading cause of maternal mortality, which the CDC recently identified as preventable in 84% of cases. Health issues are compounded by economic distress, such as the cost of childcare, which has risen 214% since 1990, while average family income has only risen 143%.

Of critical importance is the fact that this problem isn’t new. Why, as a nation, have we failed to make meaningful progress on supporting working mothers’ health in recent decades?

It’s because you can’t solve a problem without getting consensus on the root cause as well as the goal. Consensus is severely lacking on what causes poor maternal health status after the first year postpartum and what the goal of addressing it should be. Outside of a brief time set aside for unpaid maternity leave, federal policy puts the onus of finding a solution for less stress and better health solely on the individual. For instance, if a mother feels too stressed at work, it’s the mother’s responsibility to find the answer to the ailment or a better solution.

Nationally, there is also a lack of clarity on the goal of improving maternal health. Without consensus around the desired outcome of improved health, we can’t answer the critical questions around how to achieve it. For instance, should working mothers work less, or should workplace demands decrease? Should better access to childcare become a priority? With no societal agreement on these factors, the pressure rests on the individual (i.e., the working mom) to solve a national problem. This is a losing strategy.

Due to a lack of agreement on both the root causes and the goals, solving this problem with a national response isn’t an effective first step. The first step in improving working mothers’ health outcomes is for forward-thinking employers to institute policies and workplace benefits that promote maternal health, not detract from it.

These can—and should—come in a variety of forms, but a key consideration is to shorten the workweek. This report highlights how near-term efforts (i.e., a shortened workweek) can benefit working mothers, their employers, and society through improved health and economics.

Ultimately, what got us here won’t get us anywhere better than where we are—and could lead to further worsening conditions. It comes down to asking what type of future we want for our country and identifying the most effective path to get to a better place. It’s time to chart a different path forward to better health and prosperity.


  • Ann Somers Hogg
    Ann Somers Hogg

    Ann Somers Hogg is the director of health care at the Christensen Institute. She focuses on business model innovation and disruption in health care, including how to transform a sick care system to one that values and incentivizes total health.