REPORT Plurality of American parents think it’s best for mothers to work part-time


Working Woman

It’s no surprise that societal expectations for women have changed during the last 50 or so years. Still, even though working mothers have gained more acceptance, 78 percent of American fathers maintain it’s best for mothers to avoid full-time work.

According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, 41 percent of fathers believe the ideal situation for children younger than 18 is for their mother to work part-time. Thirty-seven percent of fathers believe that mothers should not work at all. Only 16 percent stated they believe it’s ideal for a mother to work full-time.

Pew Social Trends Working Mothers

Women, on the other hand, are more in favor of working full-time. Overall, 37 percent reported wanting to work full-time, which was a 16 point increase from five years ago. Only 11 percent of mothers hoped they could work “not at all.” 

Pew Mothers

Researchers also segmented the respondents into certain demographics to see how wealth and marital status affected their beliefs. Among women who said they “don’t even have enough to cover basic expenses,” 47 percent said they would ideally work full-time. Among those who reported living comfortably, only 31 percent wished to work full-time. Nearly half of unmarried mothers believed it would be ideal for them to work full-time. At just 23 percent, significantly fewer married mothers reported the same thing.

The findings become more culturally revealing when contrasted with parents’ responses from 2007. Back then, before The Great Recession, far fewer mothers wanted to work full-time. At 60 percent, the solid majority of working mothers with children said the ideal situation was for them to work part-time.

If anything, the new findings show that we are more divided in the working-mother debate now than before. Unlike in years past, there was no clear majority group saying that “all mothers should work (x) hours per week.” In other words, there are millions of families in the United States. Each has its own set of circumstances and each should be allowed to make decisions regarding who will work and how much.

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  • Mia

    It’s been proven time and time again that making at least some of your own money and putting your effort into things that directly make you feel accomplished and fulfilled will make you a happier person. Everyone should have major interests outside of your children. Your kids will eventually get older and become more independent than dependent.

    I am a firm believer that after a child begins going to school full-time a mother should have some sort of part time work. For nothing else besides a regular reminder that there is more to life and your relationship than your children. If your entire life is your children, what happens to your well-being and relationship when they grow up? You need something else to regularly stimulate your self-esteem and make you feel better about yourself. My mother worked full time and it’s made me a harder worker and a more confident woman. My brother treats woman as his equal and my sister and I know that by getting our degrees we won’t ever have to rely on a man if a relationship turns sour.

    • LexiconD1

      I agree with your post entirely. However, the most important part of why women should work isn’t in your post. What happens if your spouse dies, or divorces you? You have no work history, and years of unemployment, which doesn’t look good to a perceptive employer. They equate stay at home Mom’s with taking time off because of the kids, calling in sick more often, being less able of an employee. If you do have to enter the work force, and in either of the above events, you will be paid less than those who work even as little as one part time day a week. If you already have a job, no matter the hours, at least you have a leg up. Every women should have that safety net. If not for her children, for herself.

  • steph

    I agree, in my culture most women work part-time, they still have a life outside the house and make money, and they still have time to raise up their children.

  • awoman

    Looks like I’m in the minority as a stay at home mom. By the way, that is full time work. I work way harder at home than I ever did as an accountant.

    • lucy


    • Mia

      Just because it’s harder work doesn’t mean it’s better for you, though. Being a good parent is the hardest job anybody will ever have. But that’s what I’m trying to say in my original post: It’s not just okay, but beneficial for people to take a break from the hard work of being a parent to go to work and interact with other people besides your partner and small children.

    • Geniya

      exactly that is why I enjoy some light part time work that is actually relaxing

  • DeeDeDee

    I think family dynamics are changing and people are trying to adjust to that. People need to do with what’s best for their family in their situation without feeling the need to bash other families for making different decisions. I am a SAHM. I love my job. But I would never tell somebody there life would be better if they stayed at home with their child. I would also never tell somebody their life would be better if they got a job to get away from their child. I think what bothers me the most, is these days if you don’t live the life that another person says you should be living, then clearly you’re miserable or “doing it wrong.” Live and let live.

    • jinna

      so many people say it is about judgement when it is not. It is about preparing a future generation for the important job of raising family. As soon as people give opinions on how they think this can be best done they are making judgements?!

      • DeeDeDee

        Because there is a difference between condemnation and throwing out your opinion. If you have to insult a person, tell them their decision is wrong, then you’re judging.

  • Karina

    Why isn’t it best for fathers to work part time, then? Why does it have to be women?

    • LexiconD1

      It doesn’t for me, but this article was directed at women only. So that’s why I posted the way I did.

  • Mickey

    I work part time, and it’s a love hate kind of thing. I love it because I’m making my own money, I’m getting out of the house, and I’m having conversations with actual adults. I hate it because I’ve missed out on a lot. My daughter stood up by herself, took a step, and drank from a straw while I was at work. And since I work late nights, I miss baths, dinner, and bed time.

  • Amanda Richard

    I think whatever works for a family doesn’t need judgment. We all do what we can and what works for us. I am a SAHM and I could imagine a working mom works so much harder than I have to. I get to make tents and tea parties and go sliding, and to the beach all day and park, library… Whatever. However, judging me for wanting to do those things isn’t fair. Whatever a woman’s choice is, it’s her choice. Let’s be happy we have one.

  • kinlee

    Since becoming a SAHM, I have made my own money, from home and have been able to enjoy the company of adults outside of my normal motherly duties. However, my work, has nothing to do with that. I have friends and family, great friends and family, some with children and some without. We speak often and make it a point to get together and have a good time. Yes part of my self-esteem is tied to my children and my husband and I have no problem with that. I know there will come a time when my children will leave the nest and that will be a time for me to rediscover myself and for my husband and I to rediscover ourselves as a “childless” couple. But will I spiral into a depression and feel as though I have no self worth because I would no longer be a SAHM. No. My worth is not in my title but in who I am as a person.

  • anjealka

    I think the most important thing is to have options. Get your education or training if you can before you have children and then decide what is best for you. I was lucky to finish grad school before my children and I loved my job. I was able to work flexible hours after my first child. I thought I had it all. After my second I developed complications from a serious rare vacular condition. I was forced to stop working and stay at home. It was a huge change. I 100% agree with anyone that says being a mom is harder then being an executive. At first I missed work and the sense of accomplishment. After knowing my illness was not going to get better and I may not drive or walk again I found a way to take my education and help my community. I help with abused women prepare simple legal documents since our city has no free legal aid. All the programs that had been cut in our schools, art, music, langauges, geography, science(under grade 6) I made into mini programs and spend 30 minutes after school with the whatever kids want to join. It is amazing what 30 minutes a day does for these kids. 16 of the kids scored perfect on end of the year testing. 14 made into the middle school honors program and several of the kids were classifed as special education before. Even though I will never use my degree as intended and there are a few days I admit I miss walking down the street to grab lunch with work friends, Im glad I got my degrees and I can still use them in a different way. Even though I never thought being a stay at home mom was me, at 3:00 when my front door opens and I see kids running through excited about good grades I know there is a reason Im on this path.