Women Sound Off On Work-Life Balance (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Women Sound Off On Work-Life Balance

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
Welcome to "Metro Connection." I’m Rebecca Sheir and you may not know it, but a major red letter day is nearly upon us. Monday, August 26th, brings Women's Equality Day, commemorating the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. That's the one which granted women the right to vote. That Amendment was passed on August 26, 1920. So this week we're bringing you a show dedicated to some pretty wondrous women out there, mothers.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:35
We first aired this show right around Mother's Day, but we've added a few new touches, so stayed tuned. We'll follow a woman in her forties, before and after she gives birth to her very first child.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:45
We'll follow a woman before and after she gives birth to her very first child.

MS. TWANDA WASHINGTON

00:00:46
And it's a wonderful feeling, but it is absolutely pure exhaustion.

SHEIR

00:00:51
We'll talk with moms about what it's like raising multiple kids when one has autism.

MS. SHELLY MCLAUGHLIN

00:00:55
There are times where she's, you know, like another mommy to him.

SHEIR

00:01:00
We'll explore the issue of international surrogacy.

MS. CRYSTAL TRAVIS-MCRAE

00:01:03
We contacted the doctor, in less than a year we already had our first child.

SHEIR

00:01:06
And we'll look at a different kind of mother, a mother lode of gold in the old line state.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1

00:01:12
There was a gentleman here in Montgomery County, his name was Jack Nelson. He panned enough gold to make wedding rings for himself and his wife.

SHEIR

00:01:26
But first, it's pretty obvious that being a mother comes with a million different experiences and stories and attitudes and opinions, but despite their differences, might there be some similarities, you know, some trends in terms of how today's moms view themselves and their roles? Well, I recently visited the Pew Research Center in Northwest D.C.

MS. KIM PARKER

00:01:48
Are you Rebecca?

SHEIR

00:01:48
I am.

PARKER

00:01:48
Hi, I’m Kim. Nice to meet you.

SHEIR

00:01:49
Hey, nice to meet you.

PARKER

00:01:50
Yeah.

SHEIR

00:01:51
Where I met a woman…

PARKER

00:01:51
We're going to go right in here.

SHEIR

00:01:53
Okay.

PARKER

00:01:54
If that works for you.

SHEIR

00:01:54
Totally.

SHEIR

00:01:55
…who says there very well may be. Her name is Kim Parker.

PARKER

00:01:59
And I'm associate director of the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographics Trends Project.

SHEIR

00:02:04
And the social and demographic trend Parker just finished studying is all about moms, well, and dads, too.

PARKER

00:02:10
We interviewed about 2,000 adults nationwide, and got their attitudes about their work lives, their family lives, and sort of the struggle of balancing those two.

SHEIR

00:02:21
And as Kim Parker and her co-author Wendy Weng went about analyzing those 2000 interviews, Parker says one thing that surprised her was -- compared with a similar study in 2007 -- more moms now say their ideal situation is to work full time.

PARKER

00:02:35
It went from 20 percent in 2007 to 32 percent in 2012. And then 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. 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.

PARKER

00:03:06
So it was sort of people, particularly with the respondents who said that they had trouble making ends meet, almost half of those women said that their ideal situation was to work full time. 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.

SHEIR

00:03:26
But at the same time, it seems the public remains conflicted about what's best for young children. I understand that only about 15, 16 percent say the ideal situation for a young child is to have a mom who works full time.

PARKER

00:03:37
Yeah, and that's the conflict and that's the sort of contradiction. That is very difficult, I think, for people to come to terms with because, as you said, a relatively small share think that the best thing for a young child is to have a mom that works full time. And even when you ask moms that work full time, they don't think that, you know, in a general sense, that's the best thing for a young child, although I’m sure they think they're doing the best that they can for their own child. Everybody has to find their own balance.

PARKER

00:04:02
But, yeah, most people think that the best thing for a young child is to have a mom that works either part time or doesn't work at all. And we have found, you know, in looking at people's actual experiences in the labor force, men place more priority on having a high-paying job than women do, and women place more priority on having job flexibility. So, again, that speaks to the sort of desire to, you know, maybe to be working but to be able to also attend to all the needs of your kids, whether they're very young and, you know, 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.

SHEIR

00:04:39
Something I thought was really interesting is that when it comes to mothers and fathers talking about how to balance work and family life, there's really no significant gap in the attitudes between mothers and fathers.

PARKER

00:04:50
Yeah, I thought that was quite interesting, too. And we actually did ask mothers and fathers and 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. And we also found when we asked mothers and fathers if they would 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.

SHEIR

00:05:20
And I noticed that about 8 percent of mothers and 3 percent of fathers say they spend too much time with their kids.

PARKER

00:05:26
Yeah, and dads were more likely to say that they spend too little time with their kids. 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. And, again, I think that's because while women do more in paid work now, they're still carrying a heavier load at home in terms of child care and housework.

SHEIR

00:05:52
In the study you also asked women and men to rate themselves as parents. Can you talk about what you found there?

PARKER

00:05:58
Sure. We found that mothers give themselves slightly higher ratings than fathers, but overall, most parents say they're doing an excellent or very good job of raising their kids. We also found that working mothers give themselves slightly higher ratings than non-working mothers, which was kind of interesting. I don't really have an explanation for that, but yeah, there was a significant difference there, as well. When our report came out it was around the, you know, 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique. And also, it was the same week that Sheryl Sandberg's book, "Lean In" came out.

PARKER

00:06:30
So it was just an interesting time. And it's always a topic that, you know, causes a lot of interest and conversation and everyone has their own stories. And it's obviously an area that's still very unsettled and dynamic in terms of women deciding what's best and, you know, formulating their views. And so I can't wait to do it again and find out what changes next.

SHEIR

00:06:52
Well, Kim Parker, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.

PARKER

00:06:54
Thank you so much. I enjoyed it.

SHEIR

00:06:57
Kim Parker is the associate director of the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends Project.

SHEIR

00:07:05
For more on her study of parenting and work family balance visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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