Report

The Harried Life of the Working Mother

  • October 01, 2009
  • By Kim Parker

Women now make up almost half of the U.S. labor force, up from 38% in 1970. This nearly forty-year trend has been fueled by a broad public consensus about the changing role of women in society. A solid majority of Americans (75%) reject the idea that women should return to their traditional roles in society, and most believe that both husband and wife should contribute to the family income.

But in spite of these long-term changes in behaviors and attitudes, many women remain conflicted about the competing roles they play at work and at home. Working mothers in particular are ambivalent about whether full-time work is the best thing for them or their children; they feel the tug of family much more acutely than do working fathers. As a result, most working mothers find themselves in a situation that they say is less than ideal.

They're also more likely than either at-home moms or working dads to feel as if there just isn't enough time in the day. Four-in-ten say they always feel rushed, compared with a quarter of the other two groups. But despite these pressures and conflicts, working moms, overall, are as likely as at-home moms and working dads to say they're happy with their lives.

Whether women work outside the home or not, family responsibilities have a clear impact on the key life choices they make. Roughly three-in-ten women who are not currently employed (27%) say family duties keep them from working. And family appears to be one of the key reasons that many do not break through the "glass ceiling" to the top ranks of management – that's the view, anyway, of about a third of the public.

Read the full report The Harried Life of the Working Mother on the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Web site.