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Are working moms happier than ones who stay at home?

A British survey takes a closer look

by Veronica  |  33464 views  |  21 comments  |        Rate this now! 

Of course there are those who are SAHMs and aren't built for the job. One former SAHM wrote me to tell me that:

When I was 100% SAHM with small children, I was the most depressed and unhappy I've ever been in my life. As were most of my friends at the time.  The best we could do was tie our life boats together and hope to get through another day. Unless your personality is configured to be a domestic goddess (re: you LOVE to put your house in order, decorate, embellish & then do it all again) or your kids are superstars of some kind (ballet everyday, soccer everyday--julliard or olympics to follow) OR you homeschool (which god knows is a full-time job)--i think it's super hard to stay upbeat, no matter how much social stimulation you have.

It's important to note that stay-at-home-moms are often still working. SAHMs are also freelance writers, journalists, artists, Tupperware women, Mary Kay ladies, on and on. Let's look at the report itself:

For those out there who are thinking, but what about health status? Class? Income levels? Egalitarian households? The answer: It didn't matter.

We British research report says the researchers experimented with a number of splits, distinguishing between couples with and without children; women with high education and low education; couples with a high family income and couples with a low family income; older women and younger women; women in good health and women in poor health; women who work compared with working women who view their hours of work as OK compared with all women; women with partners aged 50 years or more and women with younger partners; women who did the majority of domestic chores and those who did not.21 The results of all these additional analyses were remarkably similar. Whatever the sub-sample, the puzzle remains.

Bottom line? Women, with or without children, prefer part-time work over no work AND full-time work. The slight outcome that mothers are "happier" when the kids run off to school is the main headline heard around the world. But the real conclusion is a tad hairier than my legs in winter: Work/life balance is screwing with all of us women, not just us breeders who want to take the afternoon off to hit the holiday play. Not just us mothers who call in sick to stay with our feverish children. It affects even the child-free women of the world -- those who want the afternoon off to maybe hit the gym early, read that book that's been sitting on her night stand since Hanukkah 2005, or to spend some time with their dog on a beautiful sunny day. This report should not had been heralded as just one more shot in the Mommy Wars, but one more shot for us, women, wanting to bring this world back from the brink of insanity that is 50, 60+ work weeks.

About the Author

Veronica I. Arreola is a professional feminist living in Chicago with her husband & Mini-Me daughter. You can read more of her rants at .

Read more by Veronica

21 comments so far...

  • It is completely depended on ones priority, it is not at all necessary that every women has common set. Some give priority to their kids while others are truly professional.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by AnneShaw on 13th September 2012

  • I like to think that I live the best of both worlds, I call myself a stay at home work at home mom. Now when I say stay at home it does not mean I have to stay at home. I run a company that allows me to spend so much time with my daughter and work my buisness all at once. I am able to go to the park and just meet different stay at home moms who want to make an extra income but not have to slave and work 9-5. I have the time I need to play with my daughter keep my house organized and make sure I always have dinner ready. i love what I do and I love that I can watch my daughter grow all at the same time. So I guess as for me I am happy to do alittle bit of both.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Live Love Laugh on 1st May 2012

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    Flag as inappropriate Posted by uytikktdy on 26th February 2012

  • From my experience with women who have become mothers before me and at this point in time too, I think that what most mothers need is a sense of identity apart from their kids, whether that is a part time or full time job or a hobby that keeps them occupied and allows them to maintain a semblence of self-worth, not endless, thankless tasks that their children will appreciate them for later.
    Most of the SAHM's I know who get depressed don't make time for themselves and continually feel weighted by the burden that is domesticated life. There is no date night, no extracurricular activity. This is what breeds misery.
    Working full-time has it's pitfalls as well. I have no support group - all of the SAHM's I know never even offer to watch my kid every once in a while so my husband, who works graveyard, can get a nap in! There is so much self-consumption in the SAHM's I know that it's difficult to find that support that one needs as a working mom. As a Christian who thinks it's totally okay to work, I think that sometimes I'm looked down upon for working while they've all sacrificed their finances and other lifestyles to stay at home, and it's alienated us somewhat from people who share even the same faith as us...
    In all, it can really go both ways and is all a matter of individual circumstance. If we can balance our identities within our profession and our home life, I think we're good to go. It's when that balance fails that you find depression.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by kimbybaker on 15th November 2011

  • I LOVE the article, and I LOVE Mel´s point of view. When I was growing up, I used to think that I would be a SAHM, I even thought it would "liberate " me from the slavery of working (my work experience as a teenager-young adult was always stressful because of family and economical issues. Now, I discover that both my daughter and me find home (and park, and playdate) "too small" for us.... too small to explore, discover, socialize,... Fortunately, I found a job in a kindergarden and she can attend too, so we will be close but not on top of each other all day long while doing things we love . I think because of our personalities that´ll be great.
    I just hope that all of us, women, who are learning every day more and more about this issue, will make an effort to create part time jobs and help other women friends to obtain and enjoy them within a balanced life. I for sure will try.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by teacher paola on 25th June 2011

  • I think it depends what you want from life and what you believe is best for your children!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Erin B on 24th June 2010

  • Thanks for the comments and the great discussion everyone!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Veronica on 29th January 2008

  • Although I haven't always been happy to be a WOHM, the unhappiness has usually surrounded something particular to my job at the time. I HAVE always known that I wasn't cut out for SAHM-hood, and I doubt I would have gone that route for any length of time.

    I really like Elizabeth's comment - you tend to be happiest when you believe in what you're doing.

    Great article, and great discussion in the comments too!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Florinda Pendley Vasquez on 28th January 2008

  • Personally, I've tried out most of these options - worked full time, worked part time, and currently on a sabbatical, which is allowing me to try out the staying home side. There is no right answer - frankly, even for me, the answer changes based on the role I'm in, what is going on with my kids, etc.

    The part of your article that I loved the most was the very last sentence. For me, that is my primary issue with my return-to-work plan. There has got to be a way to be a successful contributor at work AND work more reasonable hours (40ish) so that I get my time with the kids.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Jen S on 28th January 2008

  • I am new to Work It! Mom and am so glad to see this as one of the first articles I've read. I am so tired of this debate in our society. It is not a "one size fits all" kind of thing. Some mothers are much more fit to be SAHM and some mothers are much more fit to be working moms. I, personally, fit into the much better as a working mom category. Would I like to be able to cut back a bit on my hours? Sure. However, it keeps me sane to have a job to go to everyday, to get out of the house and get some adult time and some time where I can work to grow myself and meet new challenges. And, this in no way negates how I feel about my children and how I try to do what is best for them. Being a working mom is best for them in many ways as I turn into inpatient, cranky Mom when I'm not working outside the home and working on me a bit (albeit, that I'm working on me by working for someone else :) ). I think what this issue boils down to what is best for each individual family. There's no magic fix such as "working moms are happier" or "SAHM are happier".

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Mel on 28th January 2008

  • I think people who are happy are just doing what they need to do for their own situations.

    Sure, you might have a preference to work, not work, work part-time, but, life doesn't always allow us to do whatever we want.

    But, doing what you feel is best for your family (and that might change over the years) sure does contribute to being happy.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Elizabeth on 28th January 2008

  • I agree that it's impossible to simply split the SAHM and Working Moms into happy vs. not happy. There are too many variable to account for. Are you working in a job you love? Is your husband supportive/helpful? Are your kids healthy/happy/normal (i.e, moms of sick or disabled kids are going to be much more stressed than others)? Do you have a strong support network around you? All of those factors will determine how "happy" you are.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Amy@UWM on 27th January 2008