Fewer Moms Are Working: Policies, Attitudes Are Implicated

A BLS report looks at the reasons the mothers' participation in the labor force has leveled off since 2000 and finds that employers' policies and individual attitudes may be to blame.

In 1948, only 17 percent of married mothers participated in the work force. In 1985, this rate had grown to 61 percent, and continued its climb through the next decade, reaching 70 percent in 1995. Yet in recent years, the work force participation of married mothers, especially those with young children, has stopped its advance, found a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released in April.

While 70.9 percent of all U.S. mothers, married and unmarried, now work, the participation rate is down from its peak of 72.3 percent in 2000.

Though factors that stand to contribute to the decline in work force participation of mothers range from weaker job market conditions (including slow earnings, fewer job openings or fewer family-friendly policies), demographic changes, changes in cultural or societal attitudes (such as placing a higher value on stay-at-home moms) to shifts in personal preferences, the BLS found the decline in labor force activity of mothers couldnt be fully answered by economic means.

Instead, it suggested that a leveling-off in the number of working mothers might have more to do with employers policies and individual attitudes.

Much recent research backs this up. A survey released May 11 by Chicago-based CareerBuilder.com highlighted working mothers struggles with balancing their jobs and relationships with their children, along with how far theyd be willing to go to address the problem. Twenty-five percent of working mothers said that they were dissatisfied with their work/life balance and 44 percent said they would be willing to take a pay cut to spend more time with their children.

"Career moms should keep in mind that compensation isnt the only thing that is negotiable. ... From mothers rooms to flexible work schedules to job sharing to on-site daycare, companywide initiatives to accommodate and even encourage employees to balance work and family life are becoming commonplace," said CareerBuilder.com Chief Sales Officer Mary Delaney.

An ongoing poll on Monster.com finds that the majority (60 percent) of workers, both men and women, dont think that their organizations are friendly to working mothers.

Another survey, released May 10 by Adecco, a staffing firm based in Glattbrugg, Switzerland, finds that women who overcome office scheduling hurdles with the help of company-allotted flextime have a second challenge to overcome: the resentment of male co-workers.

While 44 percent of working mothers said that flextime helps them be more productive, 59 percent of working men felt that this flexibility causes resentment among co-workers, with 36 percent saying that it negatively affected team dynamics and 31 percent arguing that employee morale took a hit.

"American workers realize the abilities working moms possess, but our survey findings show that employers have some work to do to manage the perceptions and attitudes many employees have toward the special arrangements provided to working moms," said Bernadette Kenny, chief career officer of Adecco.


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