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Women Sound Off On Work-Life Balance

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A new survey finds a growing number of moms say their ideal situation is to work full-time.
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A new survey finds a growing number of moms say their ideal situation is to work full-time.

Being a mother comes with a million different experiences, stories, attitudes, and opinions. But when it comes to all these things, might there be some specific trends in terms of how today's moms view themselves and their roles? A new study says yes.

Pew Research Center's Kim Parker and Wendy Weng co-authored and recently released the study. They interviewed about 2,000 adults nationwide, surveying the participants' attitudes about their work lives, family lives, and the struggle of balancing the two.

One thing Parker, who is the associate director of the Center's social and demographic trends project, says surprised her was, compared with a similar study in 2007, more moms now say their ideal situation is to work full time. The number went from 20 percent in 2007 to 32 percent in 2012.

"When we looked a little bit deeper to find out which mothers, in particular, were showing that change in attitudes, it was unmarried moms and moms who were struggling economically," she says. "So it sort of suggested that women who were saying their ideal situation is to work full-time, that may not be their ideal situation because they think that would be the most fun, but because they think that's the way that they're going to be able to provide for their families.

"And then when you look at women who say that they live comfortably, a relatively small share say that they want to work full-time. So that did suggest some sort of economic component there."

Balancing work and family life

At the same time, it seems the public remains conflicted about what's best for young children. Only 16 percent percent of adults say the ideal situation for a young child is to have a mom who works full-time. And that, Parker says, is "the conflict and the contradiction."

"Even when you ask moms that work full-time, they don't think that in a general sense, that's the best thing for a young child," she explains. "Although I'm sure they think that they're doing the best that they can for their own child. Everybody has to find their own balance."

Another interesting finding, Parker says, is that men place more priority on having a high-paying job than women do, and women place more priority on having job flexibility.

"So that speaks to the desire to maybe be working but to be able to also attend to all the needs of your kids," Parker says, "whether they're very young and need that hands-on attention or whether they're school-age and you want to be able to go to their concerts and their events and drive the carpools and all that."

According to the study, when it comes to mothers and fathers talking about how to balance work and family life, there's no significant gap in the attitudes between mothers and fathers.

"We found that the share of mothers and fathers saying that it's difficult for them to balance work and family life was almost identical," Parker says. "We also found when we asked mothers and fathers if they'd prefer to be home raising their children but they need to work because they need the income, again, there was no gender difference there.

"So fathers were just as likely as mothers to say that they'd like to be home with their kids, but they have to work because they need the income."

Spending enough time with the kids

The Pew researchers also asked mothers and fathers if they think they spend "too much time" with their kids. The results found 8 percent of mothers and 3 percent of fathers said yes.

"Dads were more likely to say that they spend too little time with their kids," Parker says. "And we know from looking at the amount of time, because we also analyzed how men and women spend their time, that even though women make up almost half of the labor force now, so they're almost equally represented in the labor force with men, but men do spend more hours per week on paid work. Again, I think that's because women do more in paid work now, and they're still carrying a heavier load at home in terms of child care and housework."

Researchers also asked women and men to rate themselves as parents. The results show that mothers give themselves slightly higher ratings than fathers. Parker says they also found that working mothers give themselves slightly higher ratings than non-working mothers.

Parker notes that the report came out right around the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique. That was the same week Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In came out.

"So it was just an interesting time," Parker says. "And it's always a topic that causes a lot of interest and conversation and everyone has their own stories.

"It's obviously an area that's still very unsettled and dynamic in terms of women deciding what's best and formulating their views. So I can't wait to do it again and find out what change is next!"


[Music: "Mama Said" by Steve Ray Vaughn from Family]

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