The XX Factor

Why Do So Few Mothers Want To Work Full-Time?

We’ve been hearing for the past couple years about how women are surpassing men in the workforce. Young, childless women in particular are going gangbusters – they’re making more money than their male counterparts. Because that’s the current narrative, I was pretty bowled over by statistics in the National Marriage Project’s new State of Our Unions report (PDF), which shows that once women become mothers, they eschew full-time work by a staggering dregree. When asked their work preferences, 58 percent of mothers say they want to work part-time, and only 33 percent say they want to work full-time. Contrast that with the work preferences of fathers: a whopping 78 percent say they want to work full-time, and only 20 percent say they want to work part-time:

I suppose I shouldn’t be so shocked by this. When I did my couples and finance project earlier this year, I found that while our country acceps the idea of women working, as a culture we don’t fully accept the notion of women supporting the family. Despite the gains that women have made in the workforce, there’s still an intense pressure for a man to be a provider. But now there’s another pressure for men: and that’s to be domestic. The National Marriage Project report shows that both men and women are happier in marriage when housework is shared equally—but a greater percentage of women are “very happy” with this distribution of household labor than men.

Which leads me to a report from the Families and Work Institute that came out over the summer called “The New Male Mystique” (PDF). This report showed that as of 2008, a greater percentage of dads were reporting work/family conflict than moms. What all this shows is that we’re processing a prolonged moment of intense growth and change for women in the workplace, and that our social expectations haven’t had time to catch up. This dissonance is making men understandably unhappy. As Judith Warner put it in Time earlier this year, men are having their “click” moment and realizing that “they’re not unique or alone in feeling they’re failing at the impossible task of ‘doing it all.’ ” Hopefully we’re on the way to a place where men and women feel equal responsiblity to both work and home.