May 9, 1997

Motherhood Today — A Tougher Job, Less Ably Done

As American Women See It

Introduction and Summary

Contemporary motherhood is a balancing act for many women. Fully half of American women with children under 18 now work full time, and the biggest challenge they face, in their own words, is dealing with time pressures attendant to being a mother as well as a worker and a wife. No wonder American women believe overwhelmingly that the job of raising children these days is harder than it was a generation ago.

Most women say today’s mothers are doing a worse job than their own mothers did. On a personal level, mothers are mostly satisfied with the job they are doing raising their children, though only one third are very satisfied. Working mothers rate their own job performance on a par with stay-at-home moms, despite the role conflicts they experience.

Problems notwithstanding, most moms say in an ideal world they would prefer to work — though more would choose part time work than full time. Only one in four, if given the choice, would opt not to work outside the home.

But women question the circumstances under which many children are being raised today. Only 29% think that when both parents work full time they can often do a good job of child raising. The same small proportion say that most single mothers can do a good job. Tellingly, only 41% of mothers who work full time are confident that such situations are good for children. Women, whether or not they work, believe the more traditional setting, in which the father works full time and the mother stays home, is best for raising children. Twice as many women say the increased number of mothers entering the workplace is bad, rather than good, for society (41% to 17%).

These are the highlights of a national survey by the Pew Research Center for The People & The Press of 1,101 American women in conjunction with Mother’s Day. Forty-two percent were employed full time, 15% part time, 21% retired, and 22% not employed outside the home. Among mothers of children under 18, half (51%) were working full time, 18% part time, and 30% were not working.

Older Women More Critical

There is a general consensus among women that the job of mothering is more difficult today than it was 20 or 30 years ago. However, older women feel more strongly about this than younger women. Fully 86% of women over 50 say it is harder to be a mother today, compared to 71% of women under 30.

Older women are also more critical of the job mothers of children under 18 are doing today. Fully 65% of women age 50-64 say mothers of children under 18 are now doing a worse job as parents than their own mothers did. This compares with 54% of women under 50.

Today’s moms cite time pressures and disciplinary challenges most often when asked in an open-ended format to name the most difficult part of being a mother for them personally. Mothers who work full time are especially burdened by time pressures and trying to balance motherhood with other aspects of their lives — 27% of them vs. 18% of those working part time or not at all volunteered this as their greatest challenge.

Disciplining their children is a problem for mothers, whether or not they work outside the home. One in five named this as the most difficult part of being a mother. However, mothers whose youngest child is a teenager named this more often than mothers of infants and toddlers (24% vs. 15%).

When asked to rate a list of challenges they face, 72% of moms cited not having enough time for themselves as a problem. An equal proportion say controlling the effects of outside influences such as TV and peer pressure is a difficulty. Concerns about outside influences are less prevalent among mothers of children under five.

Finding a job with a schedule flexible enough to let them meet family responsibilities is a problem for 48% of mothers. Lack of money is a problem for 59% of all mothers, however, fully 77% of moms with family incomes of less than $30,000 a year said money is a problem.

Finding adequate child care is a problem for 44% of mothers with kids under 18. Lower income mothers, single moms and those with kids under age 12 are among the most likely to characterize day care as a major problem.

Cite this publication: “Motherhood Today — A Tougher Job, Less Ably Done.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (May 9, 1997) http://www.people-press.org/1997/05/09/motherhood-today-a-tougher-job-less-ably-done/, accessed on July 22, 2014.