Marie Peacock, Chair of the UK group, ‘Mothers at Home Matter’, commented on the post, ‘Is equal rate of paid employment of men and women a desirable goal?’ She asked are there references for the statement that 84 per cent of women consider the work they do as mothers as their most valuable work.
The short answer is ‘Yes’. There is very good research behind that statement. For example:
a) A 2001 study by Melbourne University researchers Mariah Evans and Jonathan Kelley sought to discover, not just what women were doing in regards to work and childcare, but what they preferred to do, and what they thought was right.
Evans’ and Kelley’s study shows that:
‘Seventy one per cent of Australian mothers think that mothers should not work when their children are of pre-school age and only two per cent think that they should work full-time. Though 12 per cent of such mothers actually worked full-time during most of the time their children were under school age, some of them may have been working longer hours than they would have liked and 62 per cent in fact stayed home through most of this stage of life. Family policy should reflect the diversity of preferences among parents of young children, but as most prefer full-time homemaking this is the option that should be given pride of place.’
(Evans, M.D.R. and Kelley, J. 2001. ‘Employment for mothers of pre-school children: evidence from Australia and 23 other nations’. People and Place 9: 28-40, pp. 29-30.)
b) Catherine Hakim, recognised international expert on work/family issues concludes that focusing only on childcare as the solution to work-family pressures is not the way to go. Her research shows that increased childcare services are mainly of concern to work-centred women. Hakim has shown that women in OECD countries fall into three distinct groups:
i) Those attached primarily to home and family, ‘home-centred women’, comprise about 14 per cent of all women and prefer to give priority to home and family throughout adult life. Hakim comments, ‘They generally prefer to avoid paid employment after marriage except in cases of extreme financial pressure’.
(Catherine Hakim, ‘Taking women seriously’ in People and Place, vol. 9, no. 4, 2001, p. 3.)
ii) Those attached primarily to work, ‘work-centred women’, comprise about 16 per cent of all women and give priority to employment throughout life. ‘Their lives are focused on competitive activities in the public sphere rather than on private family life.’ (ibid p. 3) For them, paid work is the chief source of meaning, pleasure, identity and honour.
iii) The largest group, 70 per cent of all women, are the ‘adaptive women’ who seek the best of both worlds, but they fit work in around family. On a range of significant issues adaptive women are far more like home-centred women than like work-centred women. The needs of their family come first.
(These proportions are from Britain. ‘Eurobarometer surveys show that Britain lies close to the average for all European countries. Data for Britain is fairly representative of attitudes in western Europe generally, and it is probably fairly close to the picture in Australia as well’.
Catherine Hakim, ‘Taking women seriously’, People and Place, vol. 9, no. 4, 2001, p. 2.
(Men’s preferences for their wives/partners’ home–work balance fall into the same three groups.)
iv) Hakim writes:
‘Improved child-care services are only of benefit to work centred careerists and a minority of adaptive women. The vast majority of home-centred and adaptive women want to care for their children themselves, even if they also do a part-time job later on, and they want some public recognition for the family work they do.’
(Hakim, C. 2001. ‘Taking women seriously’. People and Place 9: 4, 1-6.)
c) Evans and Kelley, Australia’s leading researchers on maternal employment issues summarise their findings and suggest a way out of the dilemma of companies making profits from tax-payer funded child-care centres:
‘The balance of opinion is clearly that it is best for young children if their mothers stay home with them, and so ‘evidence based policy-making’ ought to take special care that women enacting our most widely held social ideal are not disadvantaged. With this in mind, it seems reasonable to say that whatever government benefits are available should be made available to the mother rather than to specific service providers . For example, if the funds now available as ‘childcare benefit’ payable only to formal organisations providing childcare were instead provided to the mother, the family could decide whether to spend that money on childcare while the mother works or use it as partial wage-replacement while the mother tends to full-time mothering and homemaking. This form of benefit respects diversity of opinion without disadvantaging full-time homemaking mothers. This is particularly important for tax funded benefits, since most taxpayers favour full-time mothering where mothers of young children are concerned.’
(Evans, M.D.R. and Kelley, J. 2002. ‘Changes in public attitudes to maternal employment: Australia, 1984 to 2001’. People and Place 10: 42-56, p. 56.)