Are working mothers happier?

Putting in Overtime at Home

Working mothers often have to cover a "second shift" at home.
Working mothers often have to cover a "second shift" at home.
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Just as the number of women working outside the home has climbed steadily upward since 1880, moms earning money isn't a modern innovation, either [source: Stern]. Even in 1960, during the days of "Father Knows Best" when at-home mothers were the cultural standard in the United States, 27.6 percent of married moms with children under 18 years old held down jobs [source: Alger and Crowley]. As of 2010, more than 70 percent of U.S. mothers with school-aged children brought home a paycheck [source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics]. Though not surprisingly, the proportion of working mothers (roughly 75 percent) is highest among unmarried women who double as the heads of household [source: Joint Economic Committee Majority Staff].

Among married couples, however, the division of chores and childcare hasn't evolved toward gender equity alongside developments the workplace. In fact, social scientists report that the ratio of male-to-female housework has stagnated in the past century, since long before women were common fixtures in cubicle farms [source: Belkin]. According to the University of Wisconsin's National Survey of Families and Households from 2008, full-time working mothers put in an average 28 hours of housework each week, compared with 16 hours per week for working husbands [source: Belkin]. In the late 1980s, University of California sociologist Arlie Hochschild termed these post-9-to-5 duties married women perform as the "second shift," emphasizing how, for many employed moms, the work day doesn't end once they tuck laptops away in their briefcases [source: Ruttner].

At-home moms might take umbrage at the suggestion that their domestic responsibilities are any less time-consuming -- and not without merit. When mothers elect to stay at home with dads bringing home the bacon, women devote 15 hours per week to childcare, whereas the working dads only clock two hours. Household management additionally eats up 38 hours per week, coming awfully close to the standard 40-hour work week [source: Belkin]. Moreover, the extra time afforded by not holding a job is theoretically funneled toward children for their well being. At-home mothers can, in theory, assist with organizing school fundraisers, courier kids among a host of extracurricular activities and help with homework instead of answering evening work e-mails.

But in spite of their kid-friendlier schedules, full-time at-home moms aren't the happiest among all women with children.