March 10, 2015

Despite progress, women still bear heavier load than men in balancing work and family

The challenge women have long faced in balancing work and family is receiving renewed public attention, with Hillary Clinton highlighting the issue when she talked about her experiences as a young lawyer and mother at a recent appearance in Silicon Valley.

Working Mothers and Career AdvancementWomen continue to bear a heavier burden when it comes to balancing work and family, despite progress in recent decades to bring about gender equality in the workplace. A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that, among parents with at least some work experience, mothers with children under age 18 were about three times as likely as fathers to say that being a working parent made it harder for them to advance in their job or career (51% vs. 16%).

Analysis of government economic data suggests that most young female workers start their careers at near parity with men in wages. However, the analysis found, women struggle to keep pace with men on this measure as they begin to juggle work and family life.

Younger working mothers are among the most likely to say that being a working parent makes it harder for them to get ahead in their career, according to our 2013 survey. Among working Millennial mothers (ages 18 to 32 in 2013), 58% say that being a working mother makes it harder for them to get ahead at work. Among Millennial fathers who are working, only 19% say that being a working father makes it harder for them to advance at work.

Mothers, More than Fathers, Experience Career InterruptionsOne reason mothers are more likely than fathers to say it’s harder to get ahead in the workplace may be that women are much more likely than men to experience a variety of family-related career interruptions. About four-in-ten working mothers (42%) say that at some point in their working life, they had reduced their hours in order to care for a child or other family member, while just 28% of working fathers say they had done the same; almost as many working mothers (39%) say they had taken a significant amount of time off from work for one of these reasons, compared with about a quarter (24%) of working fathers. And mothers are more likely than fathers to say they quit their job at some point for family reasons, by 27% to 10%.

Among men and women who say that they reduced their work hours to care for a child or family member, women are twice as likely as men to say this hurt their career overall, by 35% to 17%. Similarly, about one-third of women (32%) who took a significant amount of time off from work for family-related reasons say doing this hurt their career, compared with 18% of men.

Mothers don’t regret taking these steps, however. More than 90% of working moms who have either reduced their hours or taken a significant amount of time off from work say they are glad they did so.

Topics: Gender, Work and Employment

  1. Photo of Kim Parker

    is director of social trends research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Working mother3 years ago

    Thanks for posting. This is the primary reason more women are not in leadership positions: it’s just too hard to balance aggressive career with the demands of raising kids. Most men (though not all), don’t have the same pressure, or put in as much time in care-taking, arranging logistics, developing their children, etc. I wish taking time off, or going part-time for a while didn’t have such a negative career impact. And also wish that spouses would do their fair share of the grunt work. It’s not optional.

  2. Vicki Larson3 years ago

    If I didn’t continue to work part-time while my kids were young, I don’t know how I would have supported myself once I got a divorce. But did it impact my income? Hugely!

  3. TB3 years ago

    As long as we view the man as “helping” the woman with housework, or “babysitting” the children while she goes to the grocery store, attitudes will not change. Why would we consider the man to be babysitting his own children? Why would we consider a man cooking dinner, a meal he will also eat, as helping the woman?! Men have as much responsibility for their children and for the upkeep of the home as women, especially if both partners work outside the home. We need to look at the language we use on this issue. We need to hold men accountable as equal partners in their home lives.

    1. Oyvey2 years ago

      Amen! It boils my blood when I hear husbands talking about babysitting their OWN children or as Eric below said “relieve” a woman of her duties temporarily.

      It really boils down to how our own cultural and work place infastructure is set up. Other countries allow an adequate amount of maternity/paternity leave that gives BOTH parents the opportunity to be with their child. Three months is not enough. Small children need constant care, they get sick and with that a parent must take time off to care for that child.

      I have also witness some childcare gone wrong, and I’m talking fancy upper east side nannies mistreating tiny 3 month olds. It’s just a vicious cycle.

    2. Ellen2 years ago

      Love this comment!!!!

  4. Eric3 years ago

    i support my wife and mother of our children in her motherly role. She plays the greater role when it comes to taking care of our children. She bore them, breast fed them and even now (they are 4 & 8 years old) has the greater responsibility for their care. I support her in this role and she is happy in that role. It is built into mothers to nurture, maybe in women in general. This doesn’t mean that I, as the father and husband, do not care for my children. I can do the things my wife does but it isn’t my main responsibility. I can relieve her of her duties and also take care of our children as a father.
    I don’t know how many mothers really have a problem staying at home full time to take care of the children or taking off work when they are sick. I think that those who choose this are happy to do so. I think a certain group like to continually point out that women have trouble advancing in the job place. To be a mother and work is like a women without children or a man having two full time jobs. I’ve seen what my wife’s “job” is. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of skill. AND the mother is one of the most influential people there are. Please let’s not underate motherhood.

    1. Anonymous1 year ago

      I do not doubt that your wife is happy to have the greater responsibility in raising your children. I do wonder, however, if the women who choose to take time off work when their children are sick are ‘happy to do so’ or if they are trying to fulfill the role that society says mothers have to fill. For example, if a mother couldn’t take time off work to attend to her sick child (so her husband would have to do it), she could feel guilty. The guilt could not only come for not being able to take care of her child, but also the fact that she’s failing to carry out the duties of being a ‘good mother’ in the eyes of society by having her husband instead tend to her children.