Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Married Mothers' Work Patterns: The Job-Family Compromise

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Married Mothers' Work Patterns: The Job-Family Compromise

Article excerpt

Today's married mothers are twice as likely to work full time all year than their predecessors of 20 years ago

Married mothers form a significant segment of the female work force. Likewise, the families of these working mothers account for a sizable share of all families, and contain almost half of the Nation's children.(1) Consequently, married mothers, market work (or work for pay or profit) plays a role in the lives of sizable numbers of families and children.

Over the past two decades, the proportions of mothers (living with their husbands) who were in the labor force rose dramatically. By 1992, two-thirds of all married mothers were working or looking for work, including more than half of those with children under age 6. These familiar statistics (labor force participation rates) present only a snapshot - taken at a very specific point in time - of married mothers as workers. They do not indicate how much time these mothers spend engaged in market work over any sort of extended period. Using only the participation rate data, therefore, makes it difficult to determine the significance of married mothers' employment with regard, not only to family life, but also to women's labor force trends as a whole.

To understand more clearly how married mothers affect female labor force participation patterns overall, as well as the family/work interface, analysts need to examine measures of the amount of time these mothers spend at work and how that has changed over the years. The amount of time married mothers spend working for pay affects, not only their families and children, but also the mothers' personal economic outcomes.(2) In addition, the labor market experience of today's married mothers may influence the educational and career choices of their daughters, as well as the marriage and family formation patterns of the younger generation.

This article examines the issue of time spent in market work by looking at married mothers' work experience during calendar year 1992. The data are based on information collected yearly in March in the Current Population Survey.(3) The term "work experience" refers to the number of weeks married mothers worked during the period of a calendar year and whether they worked full time or part time. Differences in work experience by a variety of personal and family characteristics - including husbands' annual work experience - are also examined. Additionally, this article traces the broad trends in married mothers' work experience over the past 20 yearS.(4)

Work experience, 1992

About 18 million married mothers - or nearly three-fourths of the total - worked at some time during the 1992 calendar year. More than 9 million - nearly 4 out of 10 - worked year round full time.(5)

The impact of child-care obligations on the amount of time married mothers choose to work during the year can be discerned from table 1 which compares the work experience of married mothers with that of women without children and with that of men in 1992. (It should be noted that the 20 to 54 year age interval for women and men without children and all men was selected for these comparisons because almost all parents fall into that age category. Younger or older persons - who are unlikely to have children under 18 - have considerably different work experience patterns.) As can be seen, 73 percent of the married mothers had work experience during 1992, and only 37 percent worked year round full time. By contrast, 85 percent of the women with no children had work experience and 54 percent were year-round full-time workers. Likewise, 92 percent of the men worked at some time during 1992 and 66 percent worked year round full time.


Among the men, annual work experience also differed by the presence of children, although in this case, the differences ran in the opposite direction. Those who were not fathers were significantly less likely to have worked at all during the year, or to have worked year round full time than those who were fathers. …

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