Let’s Not Forget, Many Working Moms Want To Work Less

Maybe it’s time to admit that a lot of mothers don’t mind the lost pay and status of part-time jobs

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It’s almost become a cliché to note that women are still under-earning compared to men in the workforce. But maybe this reality shouldn’t keep surprising us. The recent headlines miss an important part of the work-life balance story: plenty of working mothers are earning less than men because they want the sort of jobs and working arrangements which indeed pay less.

(MORE: The Pay Gap is Not As Bad as You Think)

According to a recent Pew poll, 67% of all mothers would ideally forego full-time work in favor of working part-time (47%) or not at all (20%). By contrast, only 25% of fathers would choose part-time work (15%) or not to work (10%). Among all women who describe themselves as “financially comfortable,” only 31% would ideally work full-time and another 34% wouldn’t work at all. And among married mothers, only 23 percent would ideally like to work full-time. These are large percentages of different types of women who would choose family or personal priorities over full-time employment.

Current labor statistics bear out these fantasies: women are twice as likely as men to work part-time even though they are also more likely to be college-educated and thus more marketable.

(MORE: The Female Labor Market Is Actually Stagnating)

We spill a lot of ink trying to account for this seeming failure: corporate America doesn’t do enough for families (undoubtedly true). Government doesn’t do enough for families. (Ditto.) But there’s a certain condescension in these explanations, as if we can’t quite believe a woman knows her own mind. Even in countries like the Netherlands, with a tightly woven safety net and a high degree of gender equality, the majority of mothers still opt for more time at home with their families. And why not? Maybe it’s time to stop searching for societal ills or individual pathologies to explain this fact.

The costs of being a part-time worker can be high: lower pay and a sense of diminished value or exclusion, risk of lay-offs, as well as missed opportunities for promotions and praise. But these negatives may in fact be exaggerated or at the least offset by the equivalent downsides to full-time employment. The Pew poll found no difference at all on job satisfaction between full and part-time workers.

(MOREWhat People Really Think About Working Moms)

The benefits of part-time work are substantial. Parents can be wage earners and role models without, literally, losing sleep. They can preserve most of their professional identity and work skills but still provide support to a wider group of dependents than would be possible with a full-time schedule, and without going insane in the process.

Every family decision doesn’t have to be contested: who’s cooking, who’s “on duty” tonight, who gets to take the business trip and who is left behind to pick up the kids. These complexities don’t disappear with part-time work, of course, but they’re just a whole lot easier to navigate. And you can forego some of the expenses that full-time workers need to offset their fatigue and time crunch: take-out dinners and house cleaning, for example, or buying a second car in lieu of public transportation.

It’s true that the trend toward part-time, benefit-free employment can be financially ruinous to individual workers. One fifth of the country’s jobs are part-time, and many are low-skilled, dead end positions. But it’s easy to overlook how unrewarding full-time employment can be for many people, too – especially when the researchers and reporters and pundits who write about workforce trends tend to have fascinating, flexible jobs with decent pay.

We should stop limiting what women and men value by insisting that everyone has the same work aspirations. Some of us don’t want to spend the most productive and precious years of our lives trapped at the water cooler with our ‘work spouses,’ and we’re willing to pay the price.

MOREStay-at-Home Moms Report More Sadness, Anger and Depression than Working Moms

12 comments
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justconversation123
justconversation123

I used to feel very differently about this before I had kids: I saw young women go nowhere in companies, even though they were very qualified to move up in a company. In science based fields, it's certainly difficult for young women to get "ahead". However, having had a child, I personally see that I no longer want the kind of schedule that getting ahead demanded. I am not embarrassed at all by my reversal in position - your feelings on the matter are hard to anticipate until you actually have that baby in your arms. I can somewhat see why, in retrospect, I, and others who wanted children, were not promoted compared with men: 1.) we are not typically the ones bringing home all the money for an entire family and 2.) very very many women I know would not invest more than part-time hours after they had children. Which is completely understandable as it's HEART RENDING to leave your child. At the same time, for the women left behind, perhaps some kind of discrimination protection should be left in place - i.e - if that woman never wants to have children, she should somehow be able to indicate this. I guess that could lead to discrimination against mothers but, honestly, I have not met one Mom EVER who successfully balances full time work and home - usually the kids pay, and big time. 

bardmike
bardmike

This woman is a self-absorbed bigot, her writing should be approached with that reality in mind.

DenverReader
DenverReader

What about the effect on kids?  Women may like the power of being primary parent, having the primary relationship with children, having their income not be vital to the family, not having to take full economic and political responsibility for themselves, not having to become adult and have tough negotiations and conversations and even arguments with an equal status co-parent/co-earner, but how does this affect the child?  


I think kids need adult mothers, not what this author is advocating.

CindyAnneFehrenbachRiachi
CindyAnneFehrenbachRiachi

I completely agree. I worked many years full-time and didn't start having children until I was in my 30s. At times, I continued to work part-time,  full-time or not at all as our life demanded. I am married. After recently having my third child and being 44, I do not see myself ever going back to full-time employment if I can help it.. In fact, I have cut back my part-time work even more now that I have the baby. I can't be a full time mother and a full time worker. There is just not enough of me to go around and I get too tired. Of course, in order to be able to do this, I got my education out of the way first, married later and had children later, paid down any debt, etc. There was and continues to be a lot of sacrifices made. I am very happy with my decisions, though. Taking care of your own children is more fulfilling than any job I could ever even imagine doing. I enjoy it so much I could see me caring for kids i.e. adoption, foster kids the rest of my life.

Felicity
Felicity

While this article does make a logical argument, the point that the author is missing is that folks are still talking about women underearning because statistically, women make less than men FOR DOING THE SAME WORK.  I do agree that many working mothers tend to go for part-time jobs that pay less, offer less prestige, and less opportunities for promotions.  However, women desiring different jobs is not the issue - the issue is that women are working the exact same jobs and earning less.

VandaGreenwood
VandaGreenwood

Cannot possibly think women like being treated like they are worth less than men who might have to work similar schedules to hold things together?  Where is the information about something like this being similar to the Stockholm Syndrome? 

Seattlite1984
Seattlite1984

@Felicity If women were being paid less for the same work, why don't companies just hire women, they'd save millions and put their competition out of business... but they don't, can you guess why that is??? ;)

TheDudette
TheDudette

@VandaGreenwood  What about men who choose to stay home, or homosexual couples. If one of them wants to work less and take care of their family are they also being kidnapped, brainwashed and suffering from Stockholm Syndrome ? 

TyraWilson
TyraWilson

Because most companies are owned by men? Ha! I actually have no idea.  But I do agree with Felicity.  All the polls I've seen are comparing men and women doing the same job.  To me it seems the first paragraph of this article has nothing to do with the rest.

VandaGreenwood
VandaGreenwood

@TheDudette @VandaGreenwood  Women are just programed from birth that they will sacrifice in order to take care of their family. I have seen people fawn all over and praise men when they were caring for their kids when lacking a wife for some reason. This does not happen to a single mom who may have lost a spouse , significant other or whatever.  I am just saying that women are expected to carry the burden for being a woman.