My working mom | Mother stories | Mother’s Love 2021

Life of the Working Mother

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.

My working mom

Working Mothers

According to data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 59% of women now work or are actively seeking employment. An even higher percentage of women with children ages 17 or younger (66%) work either full or part time. Among those working mothers, most (74%) work full time while 26% work part time.

A survey taken this summer by the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project asked working mothers whether they would prefer to work full time or part time. A strong majority of all working mothers (62%) say they would prefer to work part time. Only 37% of working moms would prefer to work full time. Working fathers have a much different perspective. An overwhelming majority (79%) say they prefer full-time work. Only one-in-five say they would choose part-time work.

Women’s Growing Presence in the Workforce

The percentage of women working or actively seeking employment grew steadily from the 1950s onward, peaking in 2000. As an overall share of the labor force, women today comprise 47%.1 The growth in the share of women in the workforce has leveled off in recent years, just as women’s participation rate stopped climbing. Nonetheless, the fact remains that women have transformed the American workplace over the past 50 years, and in so doing have created a series of conflicts and challenges for today’s working women that have proven to be difficult to resolve.

The Challenges of Today’s Reality

Herein lies the dilemma: women are a permanent part of the workforce, society has endorsed this historic change, but public opinion hasn’t yet fully come to terms with the tradeoffs inherent in working and raising young children. Large majorities of Americans believe that the ideal situation for both mother and child is that a mother with young children does not hold a full-time job. Only 12% of the public says what’s best for a young child is that their mother works full time. Four-in-ten say the ideal situation for a young child is a mother who works part time, and 42% say what’s best is if the mother doesn’t work at all.

Why Some Women Don’t Work?

Roughly four-in-ten women, including 34% of women with children age 17 or younger, do not work outside the home. According to a 2007 Pew Research Center survey, these at-home moms are slightly younger, on average, than moms who work full or part time. They have less formal education and lower household incomes than working mothers. Only 21% of at-home moms are college graduates, compared with 34% of working moms. And, while 37% of at-home moms report an annual household income of less than $30,000, only 20% of working moms fall into this income category.2

In addition, at-home moms are more likely than working moms to be Hispanic. In the 2007 survey, 27% of the at-home moms surveyed were Hispanic. This compares with 13% of working moms. African American women are more heavily concentrated among working mothers: 18% of mothers who work full or part time are black, while only 9% of those who don’t work are black.

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