On Friday, the New York Times described the results of a Harvard Business School study about the effect of working mothers: across the developed world, the grown daughters of working moms are more likely to work themselves, and the grown sons of working moms spend more time on child care and housework. No one should be shocked by this – after all, parents are their children’s greatest role models.
I don’t want to harp on this particular study. I’m secure in the knowledge that my own choice to work outside the home is the right choice for my family, and I don’t want to imply that stay-at-home parents can’t be strong models of gender equity as well. (This particular study didn’t differentiate between working full-time, part-time, long-term, short-term, at home, or out of the home. It counted as a “working mother” any mom who “ever work[ed] for pay” before her kids were 14. That includes everyone from high-powered attorneys to stay-at-home moms who babysit.)
No, what I want to talk about is the third sentence of that New York Times article.
… 41 percent of adults say the increase in working mothers is bad for society, while just 22 percent say it is good, according to the Pew Research Center.
I clicked on the link and spent some time reading the Pew study, which was conducted in 2007. Yup, turns out if you’re a working mother in the U.S., that disapproval you think you’re feeling from society isn’t all in your head. Interestingly, there’s no statistical difference in the opinions of men and women on this subject, and there was very little change in attitudes from 1997-2007.
It also turns out that almost nobody (men, women, stay-at-home moms, or working moms) thinks that mothers working full-time is best for the children, although 41% say that a mother working part-time is ideal. They didn’t ask the “what’s best for the kids” question about fathers, because of course not.
On the plus side, 36% of the respondents said that “more fathers staying home with children so their wives can work full-time” was good for society, with just 21% saying that was bad.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to make this distinction? If longer and PAID maternity and paternity leaves were readily available in the U.S.? If we didn’t have a working culture that assumes long hours = more dedicated = better employee, so that moms and dads (and people without kids) didn’t have to choose between “work” and “life outside work” but could have some of both instead?
While we’re working on that, we need to get over the idea that working moms are bad for society. Seriously, America. You’re better than that.