The popular belief in Japan that an infant’s development is curtailed if the mother works is incorrect, according to results of a recent study by a state-run research institute.

The National Institute of Mental Health said its 16-year study found no evidence that infants not taken care of full-time by their mothers up to the age of 3 are more prone to delinquency in later life than other children.

The institute, based in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, is a unit of the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry.

The idea that mothers should concentrate on child-rearing until their children reach 3 became widespread in Japan in the 1960s, influenced by similar theories in the United States and Europe.

The former Health and Welfare Ministry rejected the theory in a white paper in 1998, but the idea still remains firmly rooted in Japan.

The 16-year study is the longest ever conducted in Japan on the issue, the officials said, adding that researchers in the U.S. and Europe have reached similar conclusions.

Masumi Sugawara, who led the survey, said the institute registered 1,260 pregnant mothers in Kanagawa Prefecture from August 1984 through February 1986 and checked on the children’s development until they reached age 14.

The institute said 270 households responded to its survey over the 14-year period.

It said that for children aged 5, those whose mothers had worked for their first three years were actually less prone to undesirable behavior than those whose mothers had stayed at home.

Tests done on children at ages 8, 10 and 14 found no difference in behavior, the institute said.

The delinquency theory is wrong because infants whose mothers work tend to be taken care of by a number of people, providing opportunities to learn social rules, the institute said.

Sugawara said: “A mother working does not negatively influence a child’s personality. It is important for society as a whole to support child-rearing.”

Nobuo Masataka, assistant professor at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University, said: “If mothers alone take on all duties of child-rearing, that would be worse. A mother working during her child’s infancy is no problem.”

Masataka reckoned men should not limit themselves to the role of observers in child-rearing. “Parents sometimes need to scold their children and fathers are suitable for that role.”

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