Maybe there is something afoot after all? The research group Catalyst, devoted to advancing women's careers in business, found that 33 percent of women with MBA degrees are not working full time compared with 5 percent of men. Census data from 2002 showed that 36 percent of women with college degrees who'd had a child in the previous year were staying home, up from 32 percent in 1995. Attitudes seem to have shifted as well. A Pew Research Center poll in 2007 compared the attitudes toward work among mothers with children under 17. Whereas in 1997, 32 percent said they preferred full-time employment, 10 years later, only 21 percent did. "The decline in mothers saying full-time work is ideal for them occurred about equally among mothers with higher and lower education levels" the report noted.
The Pew survey also found that mothers who worked full-time tended to give themselves lower grades on parenting than those who worked part-time or stayed at home. Only 28 percent of full-time working mothers rated their parenting as a 9 or 10 on a 1-10 scale, compared with 41 percent of part-time workers, and 43 percent of at-home moms. A strong majority of working mothers (60 percent) say they would prefer part-time work, but only 24 percent achieve this.
When will the left side of the Mommy Wars stop beating their heads against reality? Aren't we mature enough to recognize that women place a high value on time with their children and that this affects their work lives? Is it so threatening to acknowledge that when women have small children at home, they are less likely to want an 80-hour-a-week job?
Perhaps the true source of anxiety about so-called "opt out" moms is that they tend to undermine a key liberal shibboleth; that the state must provide "quality" childcare in order to do justice to women. If even well-educated, high-earning moms who can afford the best daycare choose to stay at home instead, it rattles. Thus the high-profile reception of this Census report. But it proves absolutely nothing.