Mommy Wars Part III

Cathy Arnst

There's an excellent oped piece in today's New York Times that bolsters the case of many commenters on this issue--there really is no raging mommy war, because most women work. As Claudia Golden, an economics professor at Harvard, points out:

The facts speak loudly and clearly against such suppositions. Women who graduated 25 years ago from the nation's top colleges did not "opt out" in large numbers, and today's graduates aren't likely to do so either

I was relieved to finally read something on this controversial issue that uses actual numbers rather than anecdotes. Golden bases her piece on a Mellon Foundation study that collected information on more than 10,000 women and 10,000 men who entered one of 34 highly selective colleges and universities in 1976 and graduated by 1981.
The key findings:

Among these women fully 58 percent were never out of the job market for more than six months total in the 15 or so years that followed college or more advanced schooling. On average, the women in the survey spent a total of just 1.6 years out of the labor force, or 11 percent of their potential working years. Just 7 percent spent more than half of their available time away from employment.

These women were, moreover, committed not just to their careers. They were also wives and mothers — 87 percent of the sample had been married, 79 percent were still married 15 years after graduation and 69 percent had at least one child (statistics that are similar to national ones for this demographic group from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey). Women with at least one child spent a total of 2.1 years on average out of the labor force, or 14 percent of their potential time. Fifty percent of those with children never had a non-employment (non-educational) spell lasting more than 6 months.

Fellow blogger Anne Tergesen is surely right that some of us are carrying on an internal war about whether or not we should be working or staying home. But most of us are probably just getting on with our lives--we work because we want to, or because we have to, or, like most men, a blend of the two, and I don't know many women or men who spend a lot of psychic energy worrying about it. The bottom line is that the majority of U.S. mothers do work. As of 2004, 70.7% of women with children under 18 and 62.2% of women with children 6 and under, according to the U.S. Dept of Labor. That ship has sailed, and instead of debating the pros and cons of whether it should have left the dock in the first place, let's debate how to improve the work/family balance for both mothers and fathers.

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