What’s the problem?

Consider these facts.*

Working and raising kids pretty much sucks in America.

FACT: The work-family conflict is worse in America than any other developed country, including Japan where there is a word, karoshi, that means “death by overwork.”

FACT: While low- and high-income families experience this conflict in different ways, we are all suffering from most family-hostile public policy in the developed world.

FACT: The typical American family worked 11 hours more per week in 2006 than 1979.

FACT: Only the United States lacks paid maternity-leave laws among 30 industrialized democracies.

FACT: Fully 90 percent of American mothers and 95 percent of American fathers report work-family conflict.

And yet, most of us are doing it.

FACT: For the first time in history, half of all U.S. workers are women. [1]

FACT: 70% of American children live in households where all adults are employed.

FACT: About 60% of mothers with children under the age of 3 work. [2]

But we’re suffering, and our careers are suffering.

FACT: Women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to that of men. [3]

FACT: Career and income penalties for “part-time” work are dramatically higher in the U.S. than in other countries.

FACT: Even men don’t like it. 80% of men who work more than 50 hours a week would prefer shorter schedules.

FACT: Only 74% of off-ramped women who want to rejoin the ranks of the employed manage to do so. [4]

So some of us are “opting” out.

FACT: Poor women are leaving the workforce in large part because their work schedules are inflexible or they can’t afford childcare.

FACT: Professional women are leaving because they’re forced to choose between working long hours or being with their children.

But we still need the income. And many of us want to work.

FACT: Low-income families (roughly the bottom third) earn 29% less today than they did in 1979.

FACT: Middle-income families earn 13% less than they did in 1979.

FACT: Only professional families are making more than they did in 1979 (7% more) but they’re expected to work longer hours than ever. Those who don’t are often barred from the fast track.

Besides, companies need women.

FACT: Companies with more women make higher profits. [5] Wait, let’s say that again because it’s so astounding. Companies with more women make higher profits.

FACT: Successful women managers are more likely than men to transfer their success to a new company because they’re better at building relationships. [5]

FACT: And when women get pushed out of the workforce, it’s expensive to replace them. For workers making less than $75,000, it costs an estimated 20% of that salary to replace them.

FACT: The cost of replacing professional employees can be a whopping 500% of salary. [5]

FACT: A talent shortage is looming and women account for more than half of the educated workforce. [5]

Men are picking up more of the slack at home, but still aren’t carrying their share.

FACT: Men still tend to less of the housework when they marry, and assume less of the housework after their wives have children. [4]

FACT: Fathers spend about a third to a half the time mothers spend on children’s enrichment activities.

FACT: Children of employed mothers are more likely to feel like they need more time with their fathers than their mothers.

FACT: Men at the top of the org chart are more likely than their colleagues to have a stay-at-home wife.

How do you see the problem? What do you think we need to fix it?

*Unless otherwise indicated, all facts are from a new and most excellent report by Joan C. Williams of the Center for WorkLife Law and Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress called “The Three Faces of Work-family Conflict: The Poor, the Professionals, and the Missing Middle.” Published January 2010.

* * *

[1] Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, “The Shriver Report: A Women’s Nation Changes Everything” October 2009

[2] United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Characteristics of Families in 2008”

[3] Betsey Stevenson & Justin Wolfers of The Wharton School. “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” May 2009.

[4] Shannon Hayes, “Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture” p.36, p. 191, 2010

[5] Claire Shipman & Katty Kay, “Womenomics” 2009

* * *

Update from September 2013

A word about job stress…

Since my book was published this month, I’m hearing from more and more people who struggle with job stress and burnout. It’s not only women or mothers who struggle with this problem, (although we are certainly at high risk given all the crazy demands on our time). Unhealthy work environments seem to be epidemic; they breed unhappy employees, and unhappy employees are a serious problem for business.

According to this recent Gallup report (“State of American Workplace”):

  • 70% of American workers hate their jobs or are mentally checked out.
  • Only 30% are engaged and inspired to work.
  • The No. 1 cause of workplace discontent: “Managers from hell.”
  • The cost: $450-550 billion in lost productivity and higher health care costs.
  • The human cost: A whole lot of unhappiness.

From the report:

When leaders in the United States of America — or any country for that matter — wake up one morning and say collectively, “Let’s get rid of managers from hell, double the number of great managers and engaged employees, and have those managers lead based on what actually matters,” everything will change. The country’s employees will be twice as effective, they’ll create far more customers, companies will grow, spiraling healthcare costs will decrease, and desperately needed GDP will boom like never before.