The Unhappiness of June Cleaver
Liberated by feminism from the June Cleaver role model, I noted in my recent column, "Jack Welch vs. Feminists: The Dumb Debate Over Female CEOs," women have done a better job of striking a work-life balance compared to men whose identities, not having experienced the male version of the feminist revolution, remain wedded to rather backward notions of workplace success. But between stay-at-home moms and career moms, who is happier?
A recent Gallup poll found that it is quite clearly the latter:
The degree of difficulty of being a stay-at-home parent is evident in a new Gallup analysis of more than 60,000 U.S. women interviewed in 2012. Non-employed women with young children at home are more likely than women with young children at home who are employed for pay to report experiencing sadness and anger a lot of the day "yesterday." Stay-at-home moms are also much more likely to report having ever been diagnosed with depression than employed moms. Employed moms are about as emotionally well-off as working women who do not have children at home.
What's more, found Gallup, it doesn't matter if moms stay at home out of their own choice or circumstances. They are unhappier than working moms, regardless. Notes Gallup:
non-employed moms who are looking for work and those who are not looking—to distinguish between those who may not be employed because of circumstance rather than by choice — are [both] more likely to report anger, sadness, and depression than are employed moms. It is also important to note that these findings are not related to age—that is, even when controlling for age, stay-at-home moms are emotionally worse off than employed moms…
Stay-at-home moms also lag behind employed moms in terms of their daily positive emotions: They are less likely to say they smiled or laughed a lot, learned something interesting, and experienced enjoyment and happiness "yesterday." Additionally, they are less likely than employed moms to rate their lives highly enough to be considered "thriving."
And does the income of stay-at-home moms matter? In other words, are rich stay-at-home moms better off than poor stay-at-home moms? Interestingly, both groups report the same level of sadness, anger, and depression. However, middle-income and wealthy stay-at-homes moms report more "laughter, enjoyment, happiness, worry, stress, learning something interesting, and having a high life evaluation rating" than poor stay-at-homes." In fact, on these counts, middle- and high-income stay-at-home moms for the most part do as well as employed moms. All of this suggests that although a rich husband can mitigate some of the ennui that comes from feeling unproductive and disengaged with the outside world, he can't mitigate it all. Some aspects of one's soul's wellbeing simply can't be outsourced.
While many mothers are rightfully dedicated to parenting as an important and fulfilling vocation, those who desire to work should feel encouraged by these data to pursue it. And for those who choose to stay home, more societal recognition of the difficult job stay-at-home mothers have raising children would perhaps help support them emotionally.
And that's where Gallup should have left it. But it couldn't resist slipping in some silly policy advice:
Of course, for stay-at-home moms who wish to pursue employment, the cost of child care may be prohibitive. Increasing employer-sponsored or other types of subsidized and low-cost child care may be a means to helping create more choices for stay-at-homes. (Emphasis added).
Ensuring that stay-at-home moms are in good emotional shape is critical not only for the sake of these mothers, but also for the sake of their children's and families' wellbeing.