By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 12, 2007
new majority of working moms in the United States would be happiest in part-time jobs, with fewer seeing full-time work as an ideal, according to a study released today.
In a notable shift during the past decade, working mothers overwhelmingly view fewer work hours as the best option for their busy lives with young children. The proportion of mothers who feel that way jumped 12 percentage points since 1997.
Now, 60 percent of employed mothers find part-time work most appealing. But just 24 percent of them actually have part-time hours, labor statistics show, and mothers working part time have not increased in number in the last decade.
"What we're seeing is the expression of an ideal: to be able to do both of these things . . . to be employed and to be mothers in a very involved way," said Anita Garey, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut who has studied women's work and family lives.
The report, by the nonprofit Pew Research Center, reflects what some experts see as a convergence of trends in family life: workplace policies that have been slow to accommodate parents at a time when raising children has become a more intensive, involved enterprise.
This is also a new generation of working mothers, said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research group based in New York, which she said reached conclusions similar to the Pew study -- and linked the change to the arrival of Generation X.
"We found that the younger people are more family-centric than boomers are," Galinsky said. "Most young people have seen someone lose their job, and they have lived through 9/11. It's not that they don't want to work. They just want to work more flexibly."
Rachel Schumacher, 36, of the District agrees that her generation is a factor. She feels lucky to have negotiated a part-time arrangement at the nonprofit organization where she is a policy analyst. This has meant some financial cutbacks and compromises.
"It lets me keep a hand in my career, and it allows me to be home more with my son, who is my priority," she said.
Schumacher's mother worked full time, without such an option, she said. A generation later, "we have the luxury of making these choices because of all the blood, sweat and tears our mothers put in," she said.
The Pew study of mothers showed that the appeal of part-time work crossed income and education divides.
One big change of mind-set was found among unmarried mothers. A decade ago, 49 percent preferred full-time hours; now, 26 percent do. A plurality of unmarried mothers, 46 percent, think part-time work is the best option.
Overall, mothers working part time were also the most likely to identify their current working situation as the most desirable, with 80 percent saying so.
Jackie Wyche, a married mother of four in Stafford who took part in the research, said part-time work is best -- even though it is simply not possible in her life. "I have to pay the bills," she said. She wishes it were different. Her oldest is 12, and her youngest is 2.
"Nowadays, in this society, you've got to be home with teenagers. You need to know what they are doing, You need to know their friends. You need to supervise their phone calls," said Wyche, a teacher. "You cannot do any of that if you are not in the house."
Fathers, by comparison, were far more interested in full-time work -- with 72 percent citing it as an ideal.
The study also offered a glimpse into how mothers view their own parenting.
Just 28 percent of the mothers surveyed who work full time gave themselves the highest rating as a parent; 41 percent of mothers working part time and 43 percent of stay-at-home mothers gave themselves top marks.
In another comparison, mothers with college degrees did not rate themselves as highly as those with some time in college; mothers with a high school education or less gave themselves the highest scores.
Mothers overall rated themselves higher as parents than fathers rated themselves.
Katrina Emmerson Kugel, 37, of Silver Spring said she realized how much she wanted a part-time schedule only after she became a mother. With her MBA and a corporate job, she had always been highly focused on work. "My priorities changed," she said. "You realize pretty quickly you can't do everything."
Now she works part time as a consultant. "I think part time can be the perfect balance for a lot of moms," she said. "The problem is that a lot of companies don't offer it or can't offer it."
At New York University, sociologist Kathleen Gerson pointed out that the study might reveal a difference in definitions. Increasingly, she said, full-time work has meant 50 hours a week or more -- and that overload might be what many working mothers are rejecting.
"It says as much about the increasing pressures on American workers to put in more time and the lack of supports for parents, as it does what women want," she said.
The Pew findings were based on a nationally representative survey of 414 mothers, done as part of a larger study on marriage and children released July 1.
Other research also suggests that mothers might want fewer work hours.
Lonnie Golden, a labor economist at Pennsylvania State University, Abington College, co-authored an analysis of a census survey that asked whether workers would prefer fewer hours if they made less money. The research is to be published this week, in the Monthly Labor Review.
Working mothers with children younger than 6 were more likely to choose the reduced hours and income. Golden attributed this to two factors: "Younger children may require more time-intensive caregiving, and also many jobs and workplaces don't accommodate mothers' needs for reduced work hours."