The Washington Post today had a front-page story on a recent poll that found that 60 percent of working mothers said that part-time work would be the ideal situation for them. This is an increase of 12 percent since 1997.
It’s hard to know what to make of this finding since, as the newspaper article points out, only about 1/4 of working mothers work part-time, and that hasn’t increased in the past decade. The question asked was "considering everything, what would be the ideal situation for you, working full-time, working-part time, or not working at all outside the home?" It’s hard to know how people interpreted that — if people thought about a hypothetical part-time job that paid as much (per hour) as a full-time job, with benefits and interesting work, or if they thought the part-time jobs that are actually out there. Who wouldn’t want the "have your cake and eat it too" version of part-time work?*
I know I’ve said that at some point I’d like to cut back to part-time (probably 3/5 or 4/5 time) work. I’d like to spend more time with the boys, and I’d like to have more time to do all the other things (reading, blogging, cooking, hanging out on the lake) that I never have enough time to do. And I could even do it at my job without it being a major career-limiting move — Rachel Schumacher, who is quoted in the article about her part-time job, works for my organization.
So why don’t I? Money is the most obvious reason. I took a paycut when I took this job, and while we’re doing ok, it would be hard to cut our budget by another 20 percent. T could presumably get a job that would fill the gap, but it would be tricky to align our hours. This will likely be more manageable when the boys are both in school, and I suspect that we’re headed in that direction (although it will in part depend on how much the market value of T’s professional skills have degraded with his time out of the workforce).
But I also suspect that I’m driven enough that I’d have trouble cutting back on my work commitments. Take next week for an example. T has someplace else he needs to be for 2 days– we’ve known about this for months, and I’ve planned to take them off from work to hang out with the boys. But Monday I learned about a meeting on an issue area that I’ve been trying to get into for the past year. And of course it’s scheduled for one of the days that I’m supposed to be off. My boss literally didn’t say a word, but I knew I should be there. So I scrambled, and have lined up some childcare for that morning. I have a feeling that I’d wind up working at least some of the time as often as not on my days off.
* Well, fathers apparently. Only 12 percent of fathers said that part-time work would be the ideal situation for them. But, interestingly, 16 percent said that not working outside the home at all would be the ideal situation for them. That’s lower than the figure for mothers (29 percent), but I think it’s fascinating that fathers were more likely to chose "not working" than "part-time work" and mothers were more likely to choose "part-time work" than "not working." Does that mean that there’s more interest among men in "reverse traditional families" than in "equally shared parenting"? Or that more dads still think that staying home is a permanent vacation?