NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Overtime Helps Create "Breadwinner-Homemaker" Families

August 19, 2003

What does it mean that the number of mothers who stay home full time has risen nearly 13 percent in less than a decade? Are an increasing number of women choosing families over careers? Not really, says Joan C. Williams, a law professor at American University.

A closer look at the relevant Census data reveals that the number of stay-at-home fathers has also jumped -- by 18 percent since 1994. So what is going on here?

As usual, it's the economy. The rise in breadwinner/homemaker families stems, quite simply, from high levels of overtime work:

  • Overwork in the United States is particularly common among male managers and professionals, over one in three of whom work 50 or more hours a week.
  • In contrast, few mothers work overtime: 95 percent of mothers work less than 50 hours per week year-round during the key career-building years -- because those are also the key child-rearing years.
  • Children under 15 are 56 times more likely to live with a stay-at-home mother than with a stay-at-home father.
  • Roughly one in three U.S. kids under 15 has a mom at home full time and the equivalent figure for fathers is under 1 percent.

Corporate policies need to address the stigma that often attaches to use of flexible work arrangements to accommodate parenting. And the issue of work hours -- of overtime gone wild and of the need for quality reduced-hours jobs -- should be placed on the public policy agenda at both the state and national levels, explains Williams.

Source: Joan C. Williams, "Why Moms Stay Home," Washington Post, July 17, 2003.


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