One of the fun parts of renting vacation houses is seeing what magazines and books other people have left there. I may subscribe to Bon Appetit and Vanity Fair after paging through abandoned issues at the Cape May place. But one of the more interesting articles I read was in Parents — though not necessarily for the article’s stated reason.
The story was about the so-called “Mommy Wars.” The magazine commissioned a poll finding that, in reality, most mothers think other mothers are trying their best, and everyone’s tired and worried about money. No big surprise there (also not surprising: the magazine attempted to show the magnitude of the discussion by reporting that “a Google search of ‘mommy wars’ yielded nearly 25 million results.” Aaargh — see yesterday’s post.)
But what I did find interesting is what percent of stay at home moms said they’d like to work. In the Parents’ poll, 51 percent said they were at home at least partly because of “insufficient pay or pay that doesn’t make up for the cost of child care.” Sixty percent said they would get a job if there were more options for part-time work or quality and affordable daycare. And about a quarter said one of the reasons they weren’t working is that they were unable to find work.
This is not the usual narrative you hear of women opting out because of not wanting to miss a moment (or what have you). Mothers, in general, want to work. While a 2007 Pew poll found that only 19% of working mothers would prefer to be at home, the same poll found that 49% of SAHMs would prefer to work part- or full-time. But they aren’t.
In the grand scheme of trying to raise the workforce participation rate — something that benefits the entire economy tremendously — this seems like a missed opportunity. Ideally in coming years there will be more growth in alternate ways of working, including flexible hours, telecommuting, etc. The cost of childcare is always going to be an issue, because quality care involves paying caregivers decently. Add in overhead, and the cost will always be a large chunk of the average income. It could be better subsidized, but as a political matter, Americans are of very mixed minds about daycare. A Pew survey found that in 2003 (granted, 10 years ago), 72 percent of Americans thought too many kids “are being raised in daycare centers these days.”
I’m not sure what’s to be done about this, but thinking about these numbers definitely colored how I looked at the cover of Time magazine this week on the child-free life. I see nothing wrong with not having children if you don’t want children. But I was a bit put off by the assertion (from some in the article) that the world is set up around the needs of families with kids. Really? If so, someone would have set up free-to-users daycare right around the time we got interstates. Both are about economic development — given how many mothers want to work, but aren’t working. A system like Social Security would have been set up first around parental leave, not around retirement. But clearly, that didn’t happen.