Chapter 2: Balancing Work and Family Life
One of the challenges for working parents is finding enough time to do it all. Many say they feel rushed, and more than half say they have difficulty balancing the responsibilities of their job and their family life. While working mothers and fathers divide their time differently—with fathers concentrating somewhat more on paid work and mothers more on home and children—moms and dads are equally likely to find the juggling act challenging.
Overall, 25% of adults say they “always” feel rushed, and an additional 47% say they “sometimes” feel rushed. Parents with children under age 18 are significantly more likely than adults who do not have children in that age group to say they always feel rushed, even to do the things they have to do (34% vs. 20%, respectively). Only 18% of parents say they almost never feel rushed, compared with 31% of adults with no children under age 18. Similar shares of fathers (32%) and mothers (37%) say they are always in a rush.
Working parents are more likely than non-working parents to say that they always feel rushed. Some 37% of employed parents say they are always rushed, and an additional 47% say they sometimes feel rushed. Among parents who are not employed, 27% say they are always rushed and 45% say they are sometimes in a rush. Among mothers, non-working mothers are more than twice as likely as working mothers (24% vs. 11%) to say they almost never feel rushed.7
Married and unmarried parents are about equally liked to say they always feel rushed (36% and 31%, respectively). However, unmarried parents (25%) are significantly more likely than married parents (15%) to say they almost never feel rushed.
Parents who live in dual-income households report feeling busier than those who live in a household where only one spouse or partner is employed. About four-in-ten (39%) parents in dual-earner partnerships say they are always rushed, compared with 28% of parents for whom either they or their partner is not working.
Managing Work and Family
Mothers and fathers feel equally pressured these days when it comes to managing their time between work and family. Among those with children under age 18, half of working fathers and 56% of working mothers say that balancing the responsibilities of their job with the responsibilities of their family is very or somewhat difficult.
Among all working parents with children under age 18, 15% say it is very difficult and 37% say it is somewhat difficult to balance their work and their family life. About one-third (32%) say it is not too difficult, and 15% say it is not at all difficult.
In the Pew Research survey, this question was asked among employed people who were either parents of children younger than 18 or married. Those who did not have children under age 18 (i.e., who are married with grown children or married without any children) were less likely than parents of young children to say it was difficult for them to manage work and family simultaneously—31% of those without children under age 18 say this balance is very or somewhat difficult, compared with 53% of those who have young children.
Parents in dual-income households are no more likely than those in single-income households to say it is very or somewhat difficult to balance the responsibilities of work and family life (54% vs. 49%, respectively).
There is no historical trend for the Pew Research question, so it is difficult to say how the level of difficulty men and women experience in balancing work and family life has changed over time. However, another national survey offers some clues. The Families and Work Institute conducted a survey of the U.S. workforce in 2008 that included questions about work-life balance. This survey found that fathers were more much likely to feel conflicts between their working lives and personal lives in 2008 than they had been in 1977, while mothers experienced only a modest increase in these conflicts over the same period. In 1977, 35% of employed fathers whose spouse or partner worked and 41% of employed mothers in dual-earner couples said they experienced at least some work-life conflict.8 In 2008, the share of fathers saying this had increased to 60%, while the share of mothers saying so went up only marginally to 47%.9
Working vs. Staying Home with the Kids
Not only do many working mothers and fathers find it difficult to balance work and family, fully half say they would like to be home with their children, rather than working. Survey respondents were asked which statement best describes how they balance work and family: (1) They would prefer to be at home raising their children, but they need to work because they need the income; or (2) Even though it takes them away from their family, they enjoy their work and want to keep working. Among all working parents with children under age 18, 50% say they would prefer to be home raising their children, while 46% say they want to keep working.
Mothers and fathers have nearly identical views on this question. Roughly half of working mothers (52%) and fathers (48%) say they would prefer to be home with their children but they have to work because they need the income. Some 42% of mothers and 49% of fathers say that even though work takes them away from their families, they enjoy their work and want to keep working. (These differences are not statistically significant.)
NBC News and the Wall Street Journal asked this question of working mothers 12 years ago, and opinions have changed very little since then. In 2000, 48% of working mothers with children under age 18 said they would prefer to be home with their children but needed to work, and 44% said they would like to keep working even though it took them away from their family.10
Income and education are strongly correlated with the desire to be at home rather than working. Among working parents with annual household incomes of less than $50,000, fully 63% say they would prefer to be home with their children but need to work because they need the income. This compares with 39% of working parents with incomes of $50,000 or higher. Similarly, working parents who have not attended college are more likely than those who have to say they would prefer to be home with their children (62% vs. 42%).
- There were too few non-working fathers in the sample to analyze them separately. ↩
- 1977 figures are from surveys conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. ↩
- This analysis is based on mothers and fathers with child(ren) younger than 18 who are in dual-earner couples and are employed for at least 20 hours per week. Work-life conflict is measured here using the following question: “How much do your job and your family life interfere with each other—a lot, somewhat, not too much or not at all?” To see the full report from the Families and Work Institute, see, Galinsky, Ellen, K. Aumann, J.T. Bond. 2011. “Times are Changing: Gender and Generation at Work and at Home.” Families and Work Institute. August. ↩
- In the June 2000 NBC/WSJ trend, the question was asked only of employed women who have children younger than 18 living in their household. This differs slightly from the Pew Research question, which does not take into account the living situation of the children. Fathers were not asked this question in the 2000 survey. ↩