Poll: Working Moms Make it Work

May 8, 2005 -- -- Working moms are making it work: On Mother's Day 2005, they express broad satisfaction with their lives, work/life balance and parenting skills.

But oh, for a little spare time.

This ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that working moms (those with kids under 18 at home) are as satisfied as other women with their lives overall and their ability to balance work and family life. And they're no more likely than other working women to say they'd quit their job or cut their hours if they could.

But time is a different story: Among women who don't work outside the home, 68 percent are "very satisfied" with the amount of spare time they have. Among women who don't have kids at home, it's 51 percent, still a majority. But among working moms that plummets: Just 20 percent are happy with their free time.

Satisfaction (percent "very satisfied")
 Working MomsOther Women
Life Overall 60% 64%
Work/Life Balance 53 53
Amount of Free Time 20 49


Then again, dads are in much the same boat. Twenty-eight percent of working dads are very satisfied with their spare time, just a tad more than among working moms. And working dads are less likely than working moms to be happy with their mix of work and family life: Forty-one percent of working dads are very satisfied with this balance, compared with 53 percent of working mothers.

Take This Job and …

The time squeeze between working and parenting doesn't mean working moms (or dads) would bail out of their jobs altogether. Just 21 percent of working mothers say they'd stop working altogether if they could do so and still maintain their standard of living. Ditto for working dads, 20 percent.

At the same time, few working moms (or dads) say they'd keep working as much as they do now -- 22 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Instead, almost identical majorities of working mothers and fathers take the happy medium, saying they'd keep working, but fewer hours.

What Would You Do If You Didn't Have to Work?
 Work the Same HoursWork, but Fewer HoursWouldn't Work
All Workers 27% 55% 18%
Working Moms 22 57 21
Working Dads 25 55 20

As it stands, working these days is the norm for parents: Seventy percent of women with kids under 18 currently work outside the home, as do 83 percent of dads. For nearly six in 10 married couples with young children, both parents work.

The prevalence of families in which both parents work, and the constraints on free time that result, may be one reason so many people think parenting is just plain harder than it was for the previous generation. Three-quarters of working moms say motherhood is more demanding these days, and 69 percent of working dads agree. And just over six in 10 in both groups say fathering is tougher, too.

Is Motherhood More, Less or as Demanding as for Previous Generations?
All 68% 8% 23%
Working Moms 75 3 23
Working Dads 69 6 25

It follows that a significant number of people -- 48 percent of all Americans, and 44 percent of working moms -- also say they think mothers these days are doing a worse job as parents than their own mothers did 20 or 30 years ago.

Leave It to Beaver

Part of that criticism reflects the grip of the "Leave it to Beaver" model of American life on the public psyche. Three-quarters of Americans agree with the statement, "It may be necessary for mothers to be working because the family needs money, but it would be better if she could stay home and take care of the house and children." Eight in 10 working dads agree, as do 72 percent of working moms.

Agree/disagree statements in polls can carry acquiescence bias (people tend to agree), and this one doesn't draw working in a particularly positive light. Another reality also tempers this result: the simple the fact that, as noted, eight in 10 working mothers say that even if they could stop working entirely, they wouldn't.


This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone April 21-24, 2005, among a random national sample of 1,007 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

You can find more ABC News polls in our Poll Vault.