Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen’s comment this week about Ann Romney’s lack of work experience has put the “mommy wars” back in the news. The Pew Research Center has done many surveys in recent years that explore public attitudes about issues related to women, work and motherhood.

What follows is a summary of our key findings.

  • In many ways a public consensus has developed around the changing role of women in society.  Nearly three quarters of American adults (73%) say the trend toward more women in the workforce has been a change for the better. And 62% of adults believe that a marriage in which the husband and wife both have jobs and both take care of the house and children provides a more satisfying life than one in which the husband provides for the family and the wife takes care of the home.

See “The Generation Gap and the 2012 Election,” November 3, 2011.

See “The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families,” November 18, 2010.

  • At the same time, when motherhood and children are brought into the debate, there is an ongoing ambivalence about what is best for society.  Only 21% of adults say the trend toward more mothers of young children working outside the home has been a good thing for society. Some 37% say this has been a bad thing, and 38% say it hasn’t made much difference.  And women themselves report feeling stressed about balancing work and family.  When asked in general how they feel about their time, 40% of working moms said they always feel rushed.  This compares with 24% of the general public and 26% of stay-at-home moms. For their part working fathers don’t seem to feel nearly as harried as working mothers.  Only 25% of working dads said they always feel rushed.

See “The Harried Life of the Working Mother,” October 1, 2009

  • Most working mothers (62%) say that they would prefer to work part time, and only 37% say they prefer full-time work.  By contrast, most working fathers (79%) would prefer to work full time, while only 21% say they would prefer working part time. The reality for today’s working moms does not reflect their preferences: 74% work full time while only 26% work part time.  Only about one-in-ten moms (12%) say having a mother who works full time is the ideal situation for a child.

See “Recession Turns a Graying Office Grayer,” September 3, 2009.

  • Partisanship is strongly linked to views on women, work and motherhood. While majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents say having more women in the workforce has been a change for the better, Democrats feel more positively about this trend: 82% of Democrats compared with 72% of independents and 68% of Republicans say this has been a change for the better.  When asked specifically about the trend toward more mothers of young children working outside the home, Republicans and independents react much more negatively.  Nearly half of Republicans (45%) and 42% of independents say this trend has been bad for society.  Only 28% of Democrats agree.

See “Recession Turns a Graying Office Grayer,” September 3, 2009.

See “The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families,” November 18, 2010.

  • While the share of mothers in the workforce has risen significantly in recent decades, roughly three-in-ten mothers of children under age 18 still do not work outside the home.  Ann Romney became the face of stay-at-home moms this week, but she doesn’t fit the demographic profile of the average at-home mom.  According to Census data, stay-at-home moms are on average less educated than their counterparts in the labor force (18% of stay-at-home moms lack a high school degree, compared with 7% of working moms).  More than one-fourth (27%) of stay-at-home moms are Hispanic, compared with 15% of working moms.  Stay-at-home moms also have markedly lower household incomes than their working mom counterparts.

See U.S. Census Bureau, “Historical Changes in Stay-at-Home Mothers: 1969-2009,” 2010.

See U.S. Census Bureau, “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2007,” September 2009.