The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Mothers Know Best


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


While the media continue to glamorize the minority of mothers with careers, moms themselves aren’t fooled. Judging from a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, American mothers have few illusions that working full-time outside the home is all that it is cracked up to be. In fact, American mothers find outside careers even less appealing than they did in 1997, when the labor force participation rate of women (not just mothers) had reached an all-time high.

Based on telephone interviews conducted during the winter of 2007 with a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 adults, the Pew study found that less than one of every five mothers with children under 18 (19 percent) claim that full-time work outside the home is ideal for them, whereas 80 percent consider staying at home or working only part-time as ideal. Even mothers who work full-time outside the home share this basic orientation, as 70 percent stated that not working at all or working only part-time would be ideal. Compared to Pew’s 1997 study, where 29 percent of all mothers considered full-time employment as the ideal and 71 percent considered staying at home or working only part-time as ideal, the 2007 survey suggests a attitudinal shift among American mothers.

As might be expected, married mothers were more likely, relative to unwed mothers, to consider no or part-time employment as the ideal in 1997 and 2007. Yet consistent with the shifts since 1997, even unmarried mothers were less likely to prefer full-time work in 2007 (26 percent) than in 1997 (49 percent). Moreover, stay-at-home moms are increasingly affirming their status, believing that “not working at all” is best (39 percent in 1997; 48 percent in 2007). Likewise, the percentage of mothers with preschool children that claim that full-time work is ideal dropped from 31 percent in 1997 to 16 percent in 2007.

While the study does not address why employment patterns among mothers do not match their stated preferences, these findings do confirm that American moms know, contrary to feminist ideology, that motherhood cannot be reduced to a part-time hobby that fits around a full-time career.

(“From 1997 to 2007: Fewer Mothers Prefer Full-Time Work,” Pew Research Center, A Social and Demographic Trends Report, July 12, 2007.)

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