According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, 65% of working, married mothers have either reduced their work hours, taken significant time off, turned down a promotion, or quit their job in order to care for a child or other family member. Only 45% of the men surveyed said the same. When you break it down, more than twice the amount of women have quit their jobs in order to care for their family than have men 22% compared to 9%.
How did that make these women feel? Overwhelming happy. Married, working mothers who made sacrifices at work rate themselves as happier with their lives than married mothers who did not make work sacrifices, as well as all fathers, who rated themselves about the same level of happiness, whether they made a sacrifice at work or not.
I’ll get to those downer dads in a minute, but first, what about those moms? As W. Bradford Wilcox put it on The Atlantic, “These results do not prove that spending less time at work makes women happier.” After all, the ones making such sacrifices may be economically affluent to begin with, and people at a higher income level rate themselves as pretty happy on such surveys anyway. Rather, this data shows that women who can afford to both work and care for their families feel pretty good about their lives. And why shouldn’t they? Isn’t this “having it all?”
Over on New York Mag, Jennifer Senior wonders how many men would like to work less too. She points to marriage researcher Paul Amato’s 2007 book Alone Together, which found that men as well as women would, on the whole, like to be working part-time, or not at all. Only 55% of the men Amato surveyed wanted to work full-time.
This sounds reasonable to me. I’m a pretty happy guy! I work part-time and stay-at-home with my son part-time, while my wife works a full-time job with very reasonable hours — she’s usually home by 5PM. Most nights we eat dinner as a family, except when one of us has a social engagement, or an evening work event, which happens once or twice a month. Of course, we don’t have the money for lavish vacations, nor do we own a car or our house, and we live fairly frugally. It’s not easy, but we’re happy, which counts for a lot, because we have a good work / family / personal life balance.
While the media often focuses on extremes — like the recent New York Times article that I wrote about earlier this month, about Wall Street mothers who work insanely long hours while their husbands stay at home — in reality, I think that most people want something in between all-work and all-family. Men, however, are working against decades of cultural indoctrination that equate success with being the financial provider for their family. This, perhaps, explains why those guys on the Pew survey didn’t report being happier about their sacrifices. They could be, like me, sometimes conflicted and doubtful, wondering if they should’ve just stayed on their career path, no matter how much their hearts tell them they’ve made the right decisions in life.
More and more we’re hearing about how men and women in this country would like to be working less in order to have a fuller, well-rounded life. And yet still the pace of business increases, technology extends our working hours round-the-clock, benefits like paid leave for childcare suck, and no one’s happy. When are we going to wake up and start changing how we structure our work time, re-aligning our values so that money isn’t at the top? Alright, so surveys show that things are shifting, but when are we going to see some real change? Here’s hoping that in 2014, business leaders and policy makers start paying attention to this data, and begin having greater consideration for their employees as multi-faceted human beings.