Shine of super-mum wears off in Britain and U.S.

LONDON Wed Aug 6, 2008 9:26am EDT

An unidentified mother and her baby play at home in London, April 26, 2001. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty

An unidentified mother and her baby play at home in London, April 26, 2001.

Credit: Reuters/Kieran Doherty

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The enthusiasm for juggling high-powered careers and motherhood is on the slide in Britain and America as support for stay-at-home mums appears to be growing, a major study showed on Wednesday.

The study, by Professor Jacqueline Scott from the University of Cambridge, suggests that growing numbers of people are concerned about the impact of working mums on family life.

The survey tracked opinion on gender equality by comparing the results of social attitude surveys from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, using recent data from the International Social Survey Programme as well as historical polls.

Scott focused on the results from Britain, the United States and, because earlier surveys pre-dated the fall of the Berlin Wall, the former West Germany.

"It is conceivable that opinions are shifting as the shine of the 'super-mum' syndrome wears off, and the idea of women juggling high-powered careers while also baking cookies and reading bedtime stories is increasingly seen to be unrealizable by ordinary mortals," Scott said.

The study showed that while British attitudes are more supportive of working mothers now than in the 1980s, support for the "having it all" lifestyle may have hit a high point some time during the 1990s, when around 50 percent of women and 51 percent of men said they thought family life would not suffer if a woman went to work.

Since then, support for working mums has fallen to 46 percent among women and 42 percent among men.

In America, changes in attitude were more dramatic, with the percentage of people arguing that family life does not suffer if a woman works dropping to 38 percent in 2002 from 51 percent in 1994.

In the former west Germany, support for working mums was around the same level as the United States at 37 percent in 2002, but it had bucked the trend in the U.S. and Britain, growing from just 24 percent in the mid-1990s.

In each survey, samples of between 1,000 and 5,000 people were asked to say whether they agreed or disagreed with a number of statements, such as "a husband's job is to earn income; a wife's to take care of the children", and "family life suffers if a woman works full time".

"There is clear evidence that women's changing role is viewed as having costs both for the woman and the family," Scott says. But she added that changing attitudes did not necessarily mean a change in behavior.

"If we are to make progress in devising policies that encourage equal working opportunities for women, we need to know more about what gender roles people view as practical, as possible and as fair."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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