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Mothers and Employment

Mothers and Employment

This statement, or a variation on it, is often used in discussions about families: "According to the Department of Labor more than half of today's mothers now work outside the home." While there is nothing wrong with the Department of Labor's statistic, it has been widely misused and misunderstood, impacting policy debates and public opinion. It's important to understand what this statistic actually measures. The DOL statistic includes all mothers with a child under the age of 18, and it includes mothers earning any income at all (even those working as little as two hours per week). Yet many advocates for "working mothers" use the DOL statistic in a setting that focuses on mothers of infants and young children, leaving the impression that the majority of these mothers need full-time child care. Why would anyone do this? Among the reasons: some are concerned about lower-income families' financial challenges, some believe it is better for mothers to maintain full-time employment, and some so-called "advocates" for working mothers/families are owners of child care businesses who benefit from increased use of their services. For more on statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, please see their Employment Characteristics of Families Technical Note.

Family and Home Network's awareness of the problems involved in using statistics to draw conclusions about families began with the organization's founders. In their book, What's a Smart Woman Like You Doing at Home? (1992) Linda Burton, Janet Dittmer and Cheri Loveless explained common misconceptions about the statistics on "working mothers" in Chapter 6: Setting the Record Straight.

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