Fewer moms head straight back to work

The tough questions for many working mothers come after maternity leave runs out. Should they return to work? How soon? Can they work part time, or from home?

According to the US Census Bureau, a smaller percentage of mothers now choose to return to the workplace during their children's first year. More than 55 percent of women who gave birth between July 1999 and June 2000 returned to work - or were actively seeking a job - within a year of having their babies. That number is down from a record high of 59 percent the last time the survey was conducted, in 1998.

Declines came mainly among white women, older mothers, married women, and more-educated women - characteristics of women living in families that make more money. Other mothers are taking advantage of more flexible work options, such as working from home or working part time. The survey showed an increase in mothers who returned to work among blacks, Asians, and women without high school diplomas.

"Whether the declines are short-lived or will continue depends to a considerable extent on changes in the economy and changes in the lifestyles of new mothers in balancing work and child-rearing activities," says Martin O'Connell, a Census Bureau analyst.

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