The majority of American women with kids under age 18 would rather stay home as a full-time parent than work a job outside the home, according to a Gallup poll of more than 323,500 Americans. A new report on women and work in the U.S. says that 54 percent of mothers who currently have full- or part-time employment would prefer to have a “homemaker role” instead. Of mothers who don’t currently work outside the home, 57 percent like their current arrangement, while 37 percent would rather find external employment.
The weird thing is, fathers did not share this preference for homemaking! Seventy percent of both employed and unemployed men with kids said they wanted to work outside the home. Gallup doesn’t give us any clues about the reasoning of these moms and dads—whatever could explain this gendered divergence of opinion?
A cursory glance at the world around us may offer some helpful hints: Child care is wildly expensive—in many places, it costs more than rent—making outside jobs a logic-defying choice or financial impossibility for many parents. Many employers don’t offer much or any parental leave, impose stringent schedules that don’t let parents take necessary time off, or make it difficult to breast pump at work; it’s no wonder that many working mothers would rather sacrifice the personal and financial benefits of a job to cut that additional stress out of their lives. Women make less money than men across the board, so balancing an outside job for a relatively smaller salary may not seem worth it to some women. Straight couples still default to woman-as-homemaker mode, giving the female partner more chores and parenting duties even when both partners work. And the world-famous daughter of a U.S. presidential candidate, who brands herself as a champion for working women, just launched a TV ad claiming that “the most important job any woman can have is being a mother,” echoing a persistent cultural narrative that makes parenting the work of women, not men, and looks askance at women who prioritize their careers.
The decision to either work a job or stay home to take care of kids and chores is not made in a vacuum wherein pure preference reigns supreme. In a world that makes it hard to be any combination of woman, thriving employee, and parent, people who are all three of those things are often under disproportionate strain. A country in which more than half of working mothers and more than a third of unemployed mothers are unhappy with their respective set-ups is a country that isn’t doing enough to support its parents and its workforce. All parents and children would be better off with more humane, family-friendly policies from their employers and governments. Until those policies come to fruition, women will suffer most.