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The Choices Working Mothers Make

Employment

The Choices Working Mothers Make

Employment

About Two-thirds of the 23.5 Million Working Women with Children Under 18 Worked Full-Time in 2018

Working mothers make up a significant part of the labor force, accounting for nearly one-third (32%) of all employed women.

There were around 23.5 million employed women with children under the age of 18 and nearly two-thirds worked full-time, year-round, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey (ACS).

The most common industry group for working mothers was educational services, health care and social assistance; 40% of all employed mothers work in this group.

In advance of Mother’s Day this weekend, we are taking a look at the results of the 2018 ACS for these working mothers and how their experiences change as their children age.

Who Are Working Mothers?

In 2018, over three-quarters of working women with children under 18 were between the ages of 30 and 49 (76%).

Forty-four percent of working mothers 25 or older had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 38% of all workers 25 or older. This is in line with other trends showing that new mothers with higher educational attainment are more likely than all new mothers to have jobs.  

These age and educational differences may contribute to women with children having higher median earnings ($44,190) than women overall ($42,295).

Jobs Held by Women with Children

The most common industry group for working mothers was educational services, health care and social assistance; 40% of all employed mothers work in this group.

Nearly half of working mothers worked in management, business, science, and arts occupations (48%). Some of the most common jobs for women were as teachers in elementary and middle schools (1.3 million) and as registered nurses (1.1 million). 

How Mothers Adjust Work as Children Age

While women with children were more likely to be employed than the overall population, their work status and schedule differed based on the age of their children.

Women with younger children worked less than those with older children. Around 75% of women with "school-age" children ages 6 to 17 only (meaning they don’t have younger children) were employed compared with 62% of women with both pre-school and school-age children.

Working women with children ages 6 to 17 only were also more likely to work at least 50 weeks a year (84%) compared with women with children under 6 years old only (78%) and women with children under 6 years old and 6 to 17 years old (80%).

Similarly, women with children ages 6 to 17 only were most likely to work 35 hours or more a week (77%), compared with women with children under age 6 only (74%) and women with children in both age groups (72%).

Why Working Mothers Work Part-Time

The American Community Survey offers the advantage of a large sample and a broad scope of topics. By contrast, the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) asks more detailed questions about a person’s work situation, offering insight into motivations for working part-time.

Using Wave 4 of the 2014 SIPP, Figure 4 illustrates that both all workers and women with children usually reported working part-time for work-related reasons, such as not being able to find a full-time job or simply having a desire to work part-time.

Taking care of children or other people was another common reason why mothers worked part-time. Compared to 7% of all part-time workers, 19% of women with children ages 6 to 17 only and 30% of women with at least one child under 6 reported caretaking as the reason for working part-time.

Why Working Mothers Take Unpaid Leave

In addition to working part-time, mothers may take time off from work for pregnancy, childbirth and/or caretaking responsibilities. 

While some employers offer benefits like paid time off, others do not – some take a leave without pay. Women with at least one child under the age of 6 were slightly more likely to have an away-without-pay spell of at least 2 weeks (12%) compared with women with children ages 6 to 17 only (9%) and all workers (8%).

Among those with a spell of unpaid leave, the average number of weeks away without pay was in the eight to nine week range. This held for all workers and working moms, regardless of the age of their children.

 

Figure 6 highlights some of the reasons why working mothers took this unpaid leave.

Among women with at least one child under age 6, pregnancy was the most common reason (45%). Among all workers and women with children ages 6 to 17 only, work-related and other personal reasons were the most common explanations for taking unpaid leave.

Why Mothers Experience Joblessness

Caretaking contributed to mothers’ decisions to work part-time or take unpaid leave but it played an even bigger role in deciding whether to work.

Figure 7 shows caretaking was the most commonly reported reason for periods of joblessness among women with children.

Women with at least one child under the age of 6 were more likely to report caretaking (61%) as the reason they experienced joblessness than women with children ages 6 to 17 only (46%).

This is in stark contrast to the 10% of all respondents experiencing joblessness who reported caretaking as a reason. Instead, the most common reasons they cited were other miscellaneous reasons (63%), such as retirement or going to school.

 

Cheridan Christnacht is a statistician in the Census Bureau’s Industry and Occupation Statistics Branch.


Briana Sullivan is an economist in the Census Bureau’s Labor Force Statistics Branch.

 

 

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This story was posted in: Employment


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