NEW YORK – A sharply increasing portion of America's working mothers say their ideal situation would include a part-time job, rather than working full time or staying at home, a new national survey finds.
The Pew Research Center survey, being released Thursday, found that only 21 percent of working mothers with children under 18 viewed full-time work as the best arrangement, down from 32 percent in 1997.
Sixty percent of the working mothers said a part-time job would be best, up from 48 percent 10 years ago. And 19 percent said not working at all would be ideal — roughly the same as in 1997.
Cary Funk, a Pew researcher on the survey, said the trend reflected women's latest thoughts on the ideal arrangement for their children.
"I don't think it means people are going to give up their jobs," she said. "It's more of an expression of the difficulties of combining responsibilities at work and home."
The survey also found a shift in preferences among stay-at-home mothers.
Only 16 percent of them said their ideal situation would be to work full-time outside the home, down from 24 percent in 1997. Conversely, 48 percent of them now say that not working at all outside the home is the best arrangement, up from 39 percent who felt that way in 1997.
Fathers with children under 18 had a different outlook — 72 percent said the ideal situation for them is a full-time job, 12 percent said they would prefer part-time work and 16 percent said not working at all outside the home would be best.
The survey was conducted by telephone in February and March among a national sample of 2,020 adults. The margin of error is 3 percentage points for the full sample, higher for various subgroups.
According to the latest federal figures, 70.5 percent of American women with children under 18 work outside the home — including 60 percent of mothers with children under 3. And the newly emerging preference for part-time work doesn't mesh with current reality: three-quarters of the working mothers have full-time jobs.
However, MaryAnne Hyland, an Adelphi University management professor who has studied flexible work policies, said U.S. companies are increasingly offering attractive part-time arrangements.
"In the past, part-time jobs were often dead-end jobs, and working mothers felt they had to work full time to maintain benefits," she said. "Now more companies are offering these benefits for part-time jobs."
The Pew survey found a division of opinion between working and stay-at-home mothers as to whether it's good or bad for society that so many mothers work outside the home.
Among stay-at-home moms, 44 percent viewed this trend as bad, 22 percent as good, and the rest said it made no difference. Among working moms, 34 percent saw the trend as positive, another 34 percent as negative.
The survey also found differences in how working and stay-at-home moms assess the job they do as parents — mothers working full-time give themselves lower ratings, on average, than at-home mothers or mothers working part-time. This self-rating question wasn't asked in the 1997 Pew survey, so there was no way to track changes over time.
The survey questions did not seek details about how many hours a week the respondents worked. Joan Williams, an expert on workplace issues at California's Hastings College of the Law, said the finding that more women wanted shorter hours may reflect the fact that many of them — especially in white-collar professions — are working more than 40 hours a week.