Time and Life

by Wendy Wang

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Mothers and work: What’s ‘ideal’ ?

Originally posted at Pew Research Center-Fact Tank blog.


For most American mothers, part-time work would be their ideal work situation, preferred over full-time work or not working at all outside the home. However, there are sharp differences among views of mothers based on factors such as economic circumstances and marital status.

At Pew Research, we have tracked people’s work preferences since 1997. The question we ask is: “Considering everything, what would be the ideal situation for you — working full time, working part time, or not working at all outside the home?”

Working part time has consistently been the top choice for women with at least one child under the age of 18 in the three years that the question was asked. Nearly half of mothers (47%) in 2012 said that their ideal situation would be to work part time. The share was 50% in 2007 and 44% in 1997.

Among mothers who currently work full time, many would rather not. About 44% say that working part time would be their ideal situation, 9% say not working outside the home would be ideal. Only about half (46%) of full-time working mothers consider their current situation ideal.  

On the other hand, mothers who are not employed also think working part time is appealing. Fully four-in-ten say part-time work would be the ideal situation for them, 22% think working full time would be ideal, and 36% are happy with their current situation.

The way mothers view their ideal work situation has fluctuated somewhat over time, and these changing preferences likely reflect changing economic circumstances. The share of mothers preferring full-time work increased sharply between 2007 and 2012 (from 20% to 32%) – an intervening period that included a severe economic recession.

Mothers at the lower end of the income scale are much more likely than more affluent mothers to say that working full time would be the ideal situation for them. In 2012, some 40% of mothers with annual family incomes of less than $50,000 said full-time work would be ideal, compared with 25% of mothers with incomes of $50,000 or higher.

The 2012 Pew Research survey also found that single mothers were much more likely than married mothers to say their ideal situation would be to work full time. Single mothers, often the sole provider in their household, have a much lower family income than married mothers, on average. It’s not surprising, then, that among unmarried mothers, nearly half (49%) say that their ideal situation would be to work full time, while 36% say part-time work would be ideal. In contrast, married mothers see part-time work (53%) as more desirable than full-time work (23%). The gap in views between married and unmarried mothers has widened significantly since 2007, when these two groups of mothers had more similar views about their ideal work situation.

What mothers see as ideal for themselves is similar to what the general public thinks about women with young children. In the same 2012 survey, we asked the public about the ideal situation for women with young children. Nearly half (47%) of the public said that working part time is the ideal situation for women with young children, 33% said not working outside the home is ideal, and another 12% said working full time would be ideal.

However, when asked about what is the ideal situation for men with young children, a vast majority of the public (70%) says that full time work is ideal. One-in-five think working part time is ideal for fathers, and only 4% say it is ideal for fathers of young children not to work outside the home.

More generally, the public remains conflicted about the impact that women working for pay outside the home has on family life. Most say there are clear economic benefits for families, yet most also say the increasing number of women working for pay has made it harder for parents to raise children. And many say this has made it harder for marriages to succeed.

With all the recent discussion about opting out, leaning in and breadwinner moms, these data serve as an important reminder that many factors go into a mother’s decision about whether and how much to work for pay outside the home.



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Seven facts about intermarriage

1. Most intermarriages happen between whites and non-whites in the U.S.. In 2010, seven-in-ten (70%) new intermarriages involved a white spouse. The most common pairings were between whites and Hispanics. They accounted for more than four-in-ten new intermarriages in 2010. The share of White/Asian couples was 14%, and white/black couples 12%.

2. Asian Americans has one of the highest intermarriage rates. In 2010, 28% of newly married Asians “married out,” compared with 26% of Hispanic newlyweds, 17% of black and 9% of white newlyweds. If we look at all currently married couples (regardless of when they got married), the intermarriage rate is 15% for Asians, 18% for Hispanics, 10% for blacks and 5% for whites. The Asian intermarriage rate has gone down somewhat in recent years.

3. Black men are more than twice as likely as their female counterparts to marry a non-black spouse, but the reverse gender pattern is true among Asian Americans. In 2010, nearly one quarter of black male newlyweds (24%) married outside their race, compared with just about 9% of black female newlyweds. In contrast, more than one-in-three (36%) Asian female newlyweds in 2010 married someone who is non-Asian, compared with only about one-in-six Asian male newlyweds (17%).

4. “Marrying out” is much more common among the native-born population than among immigrants. Native-born Hispanics were nearly three times as likely as their foreign born counterparts to marry a non-Hispanic in 2010.The disparity among native and foreign-born Asians is not as great, but still significant: More than one-in-three (38%) native-born Asians and nearly a quarter (24%) of foreign-born Asians married a non-Asian in 2010.

5. White/Asian intermarried couples have the highest earning power. The combined median earnings of white/Asian newlywed couples are nearly $71,000, much higher than earnings of white/Hispanic couples (about $58,000) and white/black couples (about $53,000). White/Asian couples have higher combined earnings than do white/white or Asian/Asian couples.

Much of the earning gaps among couples can be linked to educational differences. In about four-in-ten intermarried white/Asian newlyweds (41%) both husband and wife are college educated, compared with 23% of white/white couples, 19% of white/Hispanic couples, and 15% white/black couples. (Asian/Asian couples are the most educated, but their combined earnings are somewhat lower than white/Asian couples).

6. First-time newlyweds (for both bride and groom) made up about 58% of all newly married couples between 2008 and 2010. About one-in-five (20.5%) new marriages were for couples that both bride and groom have been married before, and the rest involved one married before, one not.

The vast majority of Asian and Hispanic couples who “married in” are the first time newlyweds (79% and 68%). The rate for intermarried white/Hispanic and white/Asian couples is lower, about six-in-ten (59%). First-time marriage rate for white/white couples is slightly lower (55%), and a similar rate applies to black couples and intermarried white/black couples (about 54%).

7. Intermarriage in the Unites States tilts West. About one-in-five (22%) of all newlyweds in Western states married someone of a different race or ethnicity between 2008 and 2010, compared with 14% in the South, 13% in the Northeast, and 11% in the Midwest.

At the state level, more than four-in-ten (42%) of newlyweds in Hawaii between 2008 and 2010 were intermarried; the other states with an intermarriage rate of 20% or more are all situated west of the Mississippi River. For marriages between whites and Hispanics, the three states with the highest prevalence rates are New Mexico (19%), Arizona (12%) and Nevada (11%). The highest shares of intermarried white and Asian couples are in Hawaii (9%), District of Columbia (7%), and Nevada (5%). And the top three states for white/black intermarried couples are: Virginia (3.3%), North Carolina (3.2%) and Kansas (3.0%).

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For Young Adults, the Ideal Marriage Meets Reality

An earlier version was posted at Pew Research Center-Fact Tank blog.


Americans’ attitudes toward an ideal marriage have changed dramatically over the past several decades. The share of the public that favors a marriage in which husband and wife both work and take care of the house and children is up from 48% in 1977 to 62% in 2010. During the same period, the share that prefers the model of the breadwinner husband and homemaker wife is down from 43% to 30%.

Young adults are often at the forefront of changing social norms. Adults younger than 30 are most likely to favor a dual-income marriage model (72%), over the breadwinner husband-homemaker wife model (22%). This is even more true for young women, who are more likely than young men to prefer dual-income marriage (78% vs. 67%). Young adults are also more positive about the impact on families of increasing numbers of women entering the workforce.

Given young adults’ strong preference for a dual-income marriage model and their positive attitudes about working women, we might expect that they would be more likely to embrace the dual-income model when they themselves are married.

However, it’s not the case. When we took a closer look at the most recent American Community Survey data, we found that 57% of young married couples (where the wife is younger than 30) are in a dual-income marriage, compared with 62% of couples in their 30s and 40s. These young couples also are more likely than older ones to include a breadwinner husband and homemaker wife (32% do).


Why is that? The answer appears to be related to the age of their children. More than half of young couples (57%) have children ages 5 or younger at home, compared with 30% of couples in their 30s and 40s. (Young couples in general are less likely than couples in their 30s and 40s to be parents.)

Younger children create greater time demands on their parents. According to our analysis of 2011 time diary data, overall, parents with children younger than 18 spend an average of 11 hours per week on childcare, but 15 hours per week when they have children younger than 6.

Cost of childcare is another factor. In big metro areas, good professional childcare can be expensive and it may make more economic sense to have one spouse staying at home full time than putting kids in daycare.

Even though many of today’s young couples don’t yet have the kind of egalitarian marriage they say they want, they’re closer to that ideal than their same-aged counterparts were a generation ago (in 1980). Back then, 51% of married couples under the age of 30 had dual incomes, compared with 57% now.

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Why is Intermarriage Important ?

Having worked on a couple of reports about intermarriage in the U.S., I get this question often: Why do we care about who marries whom?

“Intermarriage” refers to unions between people of different races or ethnicities. To many sociologists, racial and ethnic intermarriage is a barometer of racial/ethnic relations in America. Partners in a marriage accept each other as equals, and their friends/families also get a chance to mingle. Marriages across racial and ethnic lines therefore help to break down social barriers between groups. Intermarriages could also change the definition of race in this country, as more children identify themselves as multiple races . We are becoming “a nation of mutts”, as David Brooks wrote recently.

For most of this nation’s history, a majority of states had anti-miscegenation laws that made it illegal for whites and nonwhites to marry. The first such laws were passed in the 1600s to prevent freed Black slaves from marrying Whites, as well as  biracial children of white slave owners and African slaves from inheriting property. As Asian Immigrants came to the U.S. in the 1700s and 1800s, anti-miscegenation laws were passed to prohibit Asians from marrying Whites.

The effects of these laws were far-reaching. For example, earlier Chinese immigrants were mostly young single men. They were not allowed to bring women from their country to the U.S. (if they got married). Many of them returned to China, and those who stayed rarely got married and had offsprings.

After World War II, many states repealed these laws. It was in 1967, during the height of the civil Rights Movement, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia declared anti-miscegenation laws that remained in 15 states unconstitutional.


America is much more racially and ethnically diverse than it was five decades ago.The once-illegal intermarriage now has reached a historical high. As of 2010, the share of all current marriages that are either interracial or interethnic reached an all-time high of 8.4%, and one-in-seven new U.S. marriages was between people of different races or ethnicities. Marriages between whites and non-whites are the most common types of intermarriage, which accounts for seven-in-ten (70%) new intermarriages in 2010.

The American public is more accepting of intermarriage as well. Nearly two thirds of Americans (63%) say they would be fine with a member of their own family marrying someone of a difference race, while only one-third of the public accepted intermarriage in 1986.

I will write more about intermarriage in future blog posts. Stay tuned!

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When Daddy Stays at Home …

Stay-at-home fathers are more visible these days. Among U.S. fathers who are married or living with a partner, about 6% are homemakers, according to analyses in a recent Pew Research Center report I coauthored. Stay-at-home dads are much less common than stay-at-home mothers, who make up about 30% of mothers with a spouse or partner.

Stay-at-home dads are definitely the most involved dads. The amount of time they spent taking care of children and doing housework is the most of all fathers. They also do more at home than their partners who work for pay, which is an exception in two-parent families (see numbers in the table below). These findings are based on time diary data.


However, when paidwork, childcare and housework are combined, the workload of stay-at-home fathers is about 25 hours less than that of their partners who work for pay (33 hours vs. 58 hours per week). In contrast, their leisure time is 20 hours more than that of their partners. (Translation: They work less but play more than do their spouses/partners who are the sole breadwinner of the family.)

The workload of stay-at-home fathers is also significantly less than that of stay-at-home mothers. The gap is about 13 hours per week in terms of time spent taking care of kids, doing chores, and work-related activities. However, stay-at-home dads enjoy about 14 hours more leisure time per week than do stay-at-home moms (Translation: Stay-at-home moms work harder than stay-at-home dads?)

Let’s look at the numbers in another way: On a weekly basis, stay-at-home fathers spend an average of 33 hours doing housework and childcare, but 43 hours in leisure. Their leisure time is more than their work time.

What does this mean? Do dads just want to have fun when they stay at home? Or Stay-at-home dads are lazy dads?

Things maybe a little bit more complicated than this.

Compared with fathers who work for pay, stay-at-home fathers are slightly older (their average age is 41), less likely to be white (45% non-white) and less likely to be college-educated (19% with a college degree).

To some fathers, staying at home might be a choice, and to others, it may be not. It is safe to say that not all stay-at-home dads decided to quit their high-paying job and be a full-time homemaker.

So what is it like to be a stay-at-home dad?

I happen to know a couple who just had a baby last year, the wife was working full time and the husband’s job wasn’t stable. So when the baby was born, they decided to have the husband stay at home, saving childcare costs.

When asked about how he feels about the situation,the husband says,“Pretty good, but oh my God, the work at home is stressful, I’ve got diapers to change, etc…” But there are rewards— “My daughter is really close to me now, she prefers to stay with me even when her mother comes back from work.”

I am also curious about whether the mom is happy about the arrangement, “yeah, I am happy, my husband takes care of everything in the house” says the mom, with a big smile on her face. It is not like she doesn’t do anything at home though. “When I get home, I try to give my husband a rest. I give the baby a bath and do other things.” She also admits that she needs help, because “I don’t know where the baby’s clothes are, and where the towels are…”

Haha, it seems that men surely can do what women do. My friends’ husband is working hard at home, I know he is.



News for All the Single Ladies

Americans are delaying marriage. The age at first marriage currently stands for 27 for women and 29 for men, according to the Census data presented in a recent report called “Knot Yet”. The report includes a lot of interesting findings about the benefits and the costs associated with delayed marriage. I tend to pay attention to details, when I get to Figure 7 and 15 (see below), some interesting patterns caught my eye: Never married women and never married men seem to be very different economically —judging by how well they are doing in comparison with their married peers.


Among women in their mid-30s, those who have never married make more money than do married women. This is true at every education level. College educated single women have the highest personal income among this group of women, on average they make slightly over $50,000 per year.These findings have been adjusted by race/ethnicity, urbanity and region.

Never married men are less financially secure

On the other hand, the earning power of never married men in their mid-30s is weaker than that of their peers who are married. In fact, they consistently make less money than married men, at almost every education level.

What does this tell us? If income is a measure of success (not to say it is a good measure), the marriage market for those who wait until their mid-30s is largely made up with economically successful women and less successful men (Divorced and widowed adults are also on the market, although they are much less likely than those who have never married to say they want to get married, according to a report from the Pew Research Center).

Now it seems that some common complaints from single women are actually not far from the truth, such as “hard to find a quality man” or “all the nice (and successful) guys are married.” Sadly, now we have some evidence to back them up. It is not clear whether the highly paid men are more likely to get married or because of the marriage (as well as a supporting spouse), men increase their earning power. Both could be true. In fact, research has shown evidence supporting the relationship of  each direction. The challenge is that we will never know if the same group of men chose not to marry, what their earnings would be.

Another “news” that got confirmed in these data is that men on average still make more money than women, even when they are both single in their mid 30s and both college educated (the gap is approximately $10,000 per year).