Moms More Likely to Be Primary Breadwinner and Primary Caretaker, Survey Finds

Filed under: Work Life, In The News

leave it to beaver picture

Unlike the iconic June Cleaver, today's mom is likely to earn more than Dad, but still does most of the housework. Credit: AP photo/file

The recent death of actress Barbara Billingsley, best known as '50s TV mom June Cleaver, has sparked new conversations about the evolution of the American mom and her role today in the family and the workplace.

These reflections come at a time when women make up more than half of the people on American payrolls for the first time in history, with moms serving as the primary breadwinners in nearly 40 percent of all families, according to a report released this week by Working Mother.

The report surveyed more than 4,600 people across the country, including working mothers, stay-at-home moms, working dads and working singles, to examine the issue of mothers in the workplace. The findings reveal a number of significant shifts in attitude that have taken place in the past 25 years, since the magazine first began identifying its best companies for working mothers.

The survey found that moms who view their jobs as a career, rather than just a paycheck, are reportedly happier in nearly every aspect of life -- kids, marriage, friendships, spouses and the choice to work -- than moms who say they're working primarily for the money. These moms also say they earn more money and respect and have more confidence.

But it's not a hefty salary that leads a woman to label her work as a career vs. a paycheck; women say they feel they have a career when they have opportunities to develop skills and advance, feel supported and respected and believe their work fulfills a higher purpose than simply making money.

"This research reveals that women who embrace the long-term commitment that a career implies feel more satisfied and positive about every marker that we measured, including being 'in balance.' " Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, says in a news release.

In contrast to the stereotypical "old boys' network," working moms report male managers are among their biggest supporters. In fact, male managers were more likely than any other group, including working moms themselves, to say working mothers take on additional work, travel for work, take on stretch assignments, are willing to relocate for their job and are committed to career advancement.

"Once we have children, we start performing to the max," Marie Wilson, president of the White House Project, a nonprofit group that researches and advocates for female leadership, tells Working Mother.

Wilson says male managers develop a lot of respect for working moms when they witness the ensuing juggling act and see just how motivated and efficient working moms are, and how they're willing to go above and beyond.

And, apparently, those late night emails don't go unnoticed by male managers, who view them as evidence of the long hours many working moms put in, often catching up on their work in the evening, when the kids are in bed.

However, when men leave the office and go home to their own working spouses, the dreaded double standard rears its ugly head.

The same men who praise their dedicated working mom employees are more likely to say that one parent should stay at home to care for children. They were also more likely to say that, when a mother works outside the home, it negatively impacts her relationship with her children, according to the survey.

And, even though the United States has embraced the dual-income household, where there's a greater need for flexibility for both parents, flex is still viewed as a woman's issue, according to the report.

While moms say a flexible schedule is second only to stability and security when looking for a new job, men are more likely to have jobs that allow for flexibility and feel they can take off time when necessary, without fear of retribution.

It's different for women, who don't want to be stereotyped as moms -- they'll miss the soccer game but stay home when the kids are sick. And, when women do take time off, many moms compensate for it by using paid time off, according to the survey.

But flex time isn't the only inequity uncovered by the survey: When it comes to domestic chores, women were significantly more likely to say they should be split down the middle, yet fewer than half of the women surveyed say their spouses do their fair share. In contrast, the majority of men feel they're doing their fair share.

When mom is the primary breadwinner, couples disagree about more than just who should clean the bathroom. Fifty-nine percent of men surveyed said, in theory, they were comfortable with the idea of their partner earning more; yet, that comfort level drops to 42 percent when women actually are the breadwinners.

The study concludes that families today need to be open-minded because they can't just step into the same roles their parents played just a generation ago.

And, as far as the workplace goes, one respondent tells Working Mother that perceptions of what women can handle have yet to catch up with reality, "Because, of course, women are already handling it all."

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