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More mothers say they want to work full time(?!)

Categories: child care, economy, happiness, time management, working from home


Ever since having kids, I’ve said (and predict I will continue to say for a very long time), that my ideal working situation is part-time–whether out of the home, in the home, on a boat, with a goat…whatever. Most of my mom friends seem to feel the same way, which is why I was surprised to read that the number of mothers who say they’d prefer to work full time has risen dramatically in just the last five years. Mothers who say they’d prefer to work full time increased from 20 percent in 2007 to 32 percent in 2012, according to a Pew Research Center survey (link goes to an overview) of 2,511 working parents (both men and women) conducted at the end of last year. Are you as surprised by this as I am?

Putting aside the pipe dream of not having to work at all, most of the moms I know (thanks for answering my late-night poll, Twitter friends!) say a flexible part-time job would feel just right when it comes to balancing Mom Time and Work Time. So why are so many more women today eager to clock 40-hour (or more) work weeks?

My suspicion was that it had a lot to do with what happened to the economy in those five years, and the research seems to agree, as women in more difficult financial situations are more likely to “prefer” full-time work over part-time–the quotation marks used here because I’m not sure you can call something a “preference” when it decides whether or not you can put food in your kids’ bellies. According to the study, 47 percent of women who said they “don’t even have enough to meet basic expenses” said full-time work was ideal, in contrast to only 31 percent of women who said they “live comfortably” and would still prefer to work full time. Makes sense.

Another surprising statistics was that the increase in mothers who would prefer to work full time was greater among currently working mothers than among those who stay home. In 2012, 37 percent of working mothers say their ideal situation would be to work full time, up from 21 percent in 2007, whereas among non-working mothers, the increase was from 16 percent to 22 percent (which the people who understand the ins and outs of this stuff tell me is “not statistically significant.”) So much for the grass-is-greener philosophy that has led many a working mother to quit her job to stay home with her kids and then realize it’s not all snuggles and bonbons. (I am myself famously not a natural at the SAHM gig.)

The reality is that 60 percent of two-parent households these days have two working parents, so work is in the cards for most of us whether we like it or not. As I feel the crunch of what it would take financially to put my younger son in daycare while also paying for my older son to not only attend full-time preschool but start participating in extracurricular activities more organized than running around the backyard like recently guillotined poultry, work is about to become more important to me than ever. But would I venture to call full-time work “ideal,” even though the salary certainly would be? No, I don’t think so, at least not yet (meaning with kids who aren’t in all-day school).

I have so many thoughts about this topic, but the people who understand the ins and outs of this stuff tell me that if I go on and on and on and on, readers will click the window closed before they finish this post and (hopefully!) leave a comment. Are you ready to talk amongst yourselves? I’ll give you some bonus topics:

  • According to the study, working fathers place more value on a high-paying job, whereas working mothers place more value on flexibility. This is definitely true for my household, and each quality is very heavily dependent on the other. Is it true for you?
  • Check out the first table in the article, comparing distribution of time between mothers and fathers in 1965 compared to 2011. The women spent a crazy-high 32 hours a week on housework(!!!) and 8 hours a week on work outside the home (but somehow only 10 on child care?). Can you even? My doorknobs would shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.
  • The study shows a significant gap in happiness between working and non-working mothers: 45% of non-working mothers say they are very happy, compared with 31% of mothers who work either full or part time.

What’s your work situation? Would you describe it as “ideal”? How much do you work? How much would you like to work? How flexible is your job? How happy are you? Discuss.

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2 comments so far...

  • There’s a point to that. I would love to work part time if we had a 2nd income. But since child support is a fight every month, I suppose I “prefer” to work full time…

    Mich  |  March 22nd, 2013 at 11:32 am

  • I have two kids (4 & 1 and a half) and in a perfect world, I’d like to work 5 days a week but work 8-3pm. Currently, I work 8-5pm and I have to use one or more of my weekend days to get grocery shopping and housework done when I’d prefer to spend that time doing fun or education activities with my family. Once they are school aged, I’d really like to be home for my kids in the afternoon so that they do not have to go to after school care. Financially this is not in the cards for us right now, but that is our goal. We’ll see =)

    Angela  |  April 8th, 2013 at 9:02 am