Thursday, July 19, 2007

Stay at home or be employed full-time: an unfortunate dilemma for many

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that only 21% of working mothers consider full-time work an ideal situation. That is contrasted to 72% of fathers who consider full-time work ideal. A solid majority of working mothers (60%) would prefer part-time work and 19% would prefer to not work. Interestingly, only 48% of "not working" mothers considered not working to be ideal. 33% would prefer to work part-time. For more fun check out the thread on this study over at Times and Seasons. They're always good for a variety (and I mean variety) of Mormon perspectives.

These results seem consistent with what I've found talking with some of the female graduate students at my university. They feel trapped on the full-time career track and want alternatives that are family friendly--either to work part-time temporarily while the kids are young or to get out of the full-time career track altogether. A lot of this dilemma is probably a function of job benefits. Women who would prefer to work part time may feel stuck in full-time positions because their husband is self-employed or works for a small business so a full-time job is the most affordable way to obtain health insurance and a retirement savings plan.

Another interesting finding was that higher education negatively correlated with how high mothers ranked their own parenting performance. The same was true for employment level. Stay at home moms ranked their own parenting higher than part-time moms and part-time moms ranked their own parenting higher than full-time moms. I didn't see if they controlled for employment with the education result, otherwise I would expect that the education result is just a function of highly educated women being more likely to have full-time and part-time employment.


  1. As I've talked to people it's surprising how many working moms say they have gone back to work because full time parenting became too much work for them and they needed a break. Although the working is the norm these results make sense because when most people find out the Chenae is staying home with the Jackson they usually say something about wishing they could do that, etc. I think gender role issues make it hard for some moms because staying at home with the kids can be cast as giving in to the "man". While I think there are a lot of contexts where gender inequality exists it can also be taken too far. Of course with this particular it's not all about gender roles, it also has to do with dual income homes which at times are necessary and at other times are not.

  2. After re-reading my post, I just have to tack on an addendum. It is unfortunate that many have to choose between full-time careers and being full time moms--but it isn't tragic. I mean, at least in the USA we have that choice. Most of us can make the choice and adjust our standard of living accordingly.

  3. Mat,
    I haven't heard of people who went full-time Mom and then had to go back to work--but my circle of interaction has a small radius. I guess it isn't too surprising considering how tough full-time parenting gets at times.

  4. I think it's interesting that people say women can"have it all." They can have a career, a family, and make no serious compromises. Once I listened to an interview with Sandra Day O'Connor and she said that she doesn't believe anyone really CAN have it ALL. She had a lot of regrets about raising her kids. No matter what you choose, you have to make a sacrifice. But I don't think anyone in the world gets through life without having to make a sacrifice. What irks me are the moms who look down on other moms who are doing things differently than they are. Aren't we all in this together?