Working mothers want part-time

The Pew Research Center has released a new study that shows a marked increase in the desire for part-time work versus full-time work in recent years. The preference for full time work has dropped for both stay-at-home moms and working moms. Fathers, on the the other hand, still prefer full-time work:

In the span of the past decade, full-time work outside the home has lost some of its appeal to mothers. This trend holds both for mothers who have such jobs and those who don’t?

Among working mothers with minor children (ages 17 and under), just one-in-five (21%) say full-time work is the ideal situation for them, down from the 32% who said this back in 1997, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Fully six-in-ten (up from 48% in 1997) of today’s working mothers say part-time work would be their ideal, and another one-in-five (19%) say she would prefer not working at all outside the home.

There’s been a similar shift in preferences among at-home mothers with minor children. Today just 16% of these mothers say their ideal situation would be to work full time outside the home, down from the 24% who felt that way in 1997. Nearly half (48%) of all at-home moms now say that not working at all outside the home is the ideal situation for them, up from the 39% who felt that way in 1997.

The lack of enthusiasm that mothers of all stripes have for full-time work outside the home isn’t shared by fathers – more than seven-in-ten (72%) fathers say the ideal situation for them is a full-time job.

. . .

Among women with minor children, views on this question vary little by income or education level. There are minor differences by race. Black mothers are more likely than whites to say full-time work is ideal; both groups are about equally likely to say no outside employment is ideal.2

Married mothers are somewhat more likely than unmarried mothers to consider no or part-time employment ideal; this pattern occurs in both the 1997 and 2007 Pew surveys. However, unmarried mothers are much less likely to prefer full-time work today (26%) than a decade ago (49%). A plurality of today’s unmarried mothers now prefer part-time work (46%), while 26% prefer not working outside the home and 26% prefer full-time work.

Mothers with younger children (ages 0 to 4 years) also are less likely to prefer full-time work today (16%) than a decade ago (31%). A narrow plurality (37%) preferred part-time work in 1997; today 48% of mothers with younger children prefer part-time work, while 36% prefer not working outside the home and 16% prefer full-time work. The preferences of mothers with older children (ages 5 to 17) are about the same today as they were a decade ago.

The decline in mothers saying full-time work is ideal for them occurred about equally among mothers with higher and lower education levels.

Among all working mothers, there’s a strong disconnect between the kind of job they say would be ideal and the kind of job they actually have. Some 60% of working mothers say they’d prefer to work part-time, but — according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – only about a quarter (24%) of all working mothers have a part-time job.

Read it all here.

As the father of a toddler, I can certainly understand the desire for part-time work. But, why the large change in attitude? What has happened to increase the desire for part-time work? And what does this say about the lack of interest in fathers in part-time work? Finally, what does this tell the Church about public policy advocacy to support families?

Katerina Ivanovna has a good discussion of these results at the group Catholic blog Vox Nova here.

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