Moms who cut back at work are happier

Shutterstock.com

 

Two facts are often obscured in the public conversation devoted to women, work, and family. First, the vast majority of married mothers don’t want to work full-time. Second, married mothers who are able to cut back at work to accommodate their family’s needs tend to be happier. The news cycle is stuck in a lean-in loop, but new data show mothers report more happiness when they can lean homeward.

New data from the recent Pew Research Center survey shared exclusively withThe Atlantic tells the second part of the story. Mothers and fathers were asked by Pew if they had made family-related sacrifices for work—from quitting their job to turning down a promotion. Pew found that 65 percent of mothers had made such a family-related sacrifice, compared to 45 percent of fathers.

Women married with children were more likely to be “very happy” with their lives if they made a family-related work sacrifice. By contrast, the happiness of married men was not significantly related to making work sacrifices for their families.

What does this data really tell us? Let’s start with explaining what it doesn’t tell us. These results do not prove that spending less time at work makes women happier. It could be, for instance, that happier women are more likely to make work sacrifices, in the first place. Or it could be that more affluent mothers, who are more likely to be happy above a certain level of income, can spend more time with their families than poorer moms.

But these results are consistent with a pattern found regularly in research on women’s work and family preferences: Most (married) mothers would prefer not to work full-time, and the most popular option for women, when it comes to juggling work and family, is part-time work. A New York Times/CBS Newssurvey this year found that 49 percent of mothers wished to work part-time, compared to 27 percent who wished to work full-time (and note also the gender differences in work preferences in this poll).

Results from New York Times/CBS News poll conducted May 31-June 4, 2013.

Another recent Pew Research Center study found that married mothers are especially likely to prefer part-time work:

This data suggests that one reason married mothers who make work sacrificesare happier is that they would prefer to scale back at work—at least for some portion of their lives as mothers—and are happier when they can do so.

This reality is often glossed over in the public conversation about work, women, and family, but as Catherine Rampell at The New York Times observed: “Not everyone aspires to be an executive at Facebook, like [Sheryl] Sandberg, or to set foreign policy, like Anne-Marie Slaughter” (author of “Why Women Can’t Have It All”).” Instead, as K.J. Dell’Antonia put it, most women are “striving for flexibility and balance” when it comes to juggling their aspirations for success at home and work.

Again, in the public conversation and the formulation of public policies regarding work and family, let us not forget that the happiest married mothers are those who are able to lean homeward, at least for a season in their lives.

 

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

W. Bradford
Wilcox
  • Bradford (Brad) Wilcox is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he directs The Home Economics Project. Inaugurated in fall of 2013, the research project explores the links between family structure and economic growth in 20 countries around the world — more specifically, how marriage and a strong family life foster free enterprise.

    Wilcox is also an associate professor in the department of sociology at the University of Virginia, where he directs the National Marriage Project. He is a fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University and has been a research fellow at Yale University, a research associate at Princeton University, and a Civitas Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is additionally the author of “When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America” and the coauthor, with Kathleen Kovner Kline, of “Biological and Social Scientific Perspectives.”

    Wilcox has a master’s degree and a doctorate in sociology from Princeton University. His bachelor’s degree in government is from the University of Virginia.

  • Email: wbw7q@virginia.edu
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Sam Richardson
    Phone: 434-321-8601

What's new on AEI

image The Census Bureau and Obamacare: Dumb decision? Yes. Conspiracy? No.
image A 'three-state solution' for Middle East peace
image Give the CBO long-range tools
image The coming collapse of India's communists
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.