The Atlantic 18 December 2013
Two facts are often obscured in the public conversation devoted to women, work, and family. First, the vast majority of married mothers don’t want to work full-time. Second, married mothers who are able to cut back at work to accommodate their family’s needs tend to be happier. The news cycle is stuck in a lean-in loop, but new data show mothers report more happiness when they can lean homeward.
Women married with children were more likely to be “very happy” with their lives if they made a family-related work sacrifice. By contrast, the happiness of married men was not significantly related to making work sacrifices for their families.
What does this data really tell us? Let’s start with explaining what it doesn’t tell us. These results do not prove that spending less time at work makes women happier. It could be, for instance, that happier women are more likely to make work sacrifices, in the first place. Or it could be that more affluent mothers, who are more likely to be happy above a certain level of income, can spend more time with their families than poorer moms.
But these results are consistent with a pattern found regularly in research on women’s work and family preferences: Most (married) mothers would prefer not to work full-time, and the most popular option for women, when it comes to juggling work and family, is part-time work. A New York Times/CBS News survey this year found that 49 percent of mothers wished to work part-time, compared to 27 percent who wished to work full-time (and note also the gender differences in work preferences in this poll).