Women with children working more: study

NEW YORK Thu Jun 12, 2008 12:50pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Women with children are working more than ever before despite the so-called "opting out" revolution popularized by the media, according to a new study.

Using data from the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey, Christine Percheski, of Princeton University, found that the number of full-time working mothers born between 1966 and 1975 has risen to 38 percent, up from 5.6 percent among women born between 1926 and 1935.

"What's happening is that professional women's employment rates are continuing to creep up every year, and even women with young children are increasing their employment," Percheski said in an interview.

Less than eight percent of professional women born after 1956 have left the workforce for more than a year during their prime childbearing years, according to the finding published in the American Sociological Review.

The notion that women are choosing to "opt out" of their fast-paced professional careers in favor of staying home to raise children has been vastly overblown by the media, Percheski said.

What's more, factors such as longer working hours and societal pressure to stay home to be with the children has created a false perception among the public that women are being forced out of the workplace.

"In fact, women are feeling less pressure to stay at home, and public acceptance towards employment of mothers -- even women with young children -- is increasing," she added.

But combining a professional career and motherhood doesn't come without sacrifices, Percheski found.

"What's amazing is that women who chose to work are not spending less time with their children, but they're decreasing the time they spend sleeping, the time they spend on leisure activities, and the time they spend in civic participation," Percheski explained.

"So yes, they're successfully combining motherhood and employment but it comes at a cost," she said.

The shift in the working dynamic has meant a renegotiation in gender roles in the family, such as men picking up more of the housework, said Percheski.

Working mothers are also spending more time at their jobs, the study found. More than 15 percent of those born after 1956 work 50 hours or more a week, compared to less than 10 percent among women born in earlier years.

The rise of women in the workforce is poised to continue as educational levels continue to rise and women seek out high-level careers, Percheski said.

"It's getting to the point where it might not make sense to talk about the choice between work and no work, it's about how much work," she said.

(Reporting by Lara Hertel; editing by Patricia Reaney)

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