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.

 

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Jane Ferrier

Looks great, Katrina. I think you’ll get lots of response, once it has been forwarded around, which I will do right now.

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Carolyn

As a mother of 11 week old twin girls these statistics really hit home. How are we supposed to do it all? I am going back to work part time next week and I feel like I won’t have enough time for my children and my job, it is a shame our society is this way.

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Katrina

So sorry to bum you out. It’s a tough transition you’re going through.

There are some great organizations doing important work to address these issues at every level (government, workplace, culture shifts, etc.). Momsrising.org is one of them.

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Lisa Rhode

Hi Katrina–

Ros just sent me the link to your blog and I’m all over it! I know virtually nothing about the world of blogging and have avoided it as yet another way to feed my addiction to the endless time-sucking internet abyss, but your blog is just too good to resist. :-)

For what it’s worth, I have thought about this issue a lot and am struggling with my own version of it– first, as a single mother of young twins (age 5) and second, as someone who loves my career and doesn’t want to give it up entirely, which the “radical homemaker” approach seems to entail…. Having said that, I really should read the book before making that assumption, shouldn’t I?!

Also, while I admire the “radical homemakers,” I fear that it is to some extent a “micro” solution to a “macro” problem, and I’m more interested in policy solutions. Once again, I need to read the book! And of course, like most things, it’s not an either/or situation…. just from a quick glance at momsrising.com, I can see there are others pursuing policy solutions as well. So I’ll add that website to my reading list as well… see what you’ve done!

Well, this was more than I intended to write, but the bottom line is: YOU GO GIRL! You are so dead on and yes, I too believe that this is where some of the deepest social change will come from.

Lisa

P.S. I just left a high-paying professional job in San Francisco that I loved and moved to Ashland, Oregon, because I couldn’t sustain the cost of living there– and by that I mean not only the financial cost of living, but the cost to my health and well-being, and the cost to my children and to being the kind of mother I wanted to be. Just fyi :-)

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Jennifer

Hi – I heard about your blog on Kim Iverson last night. I will be checking it out and looking for inspiration or at least insight into how others cope. I fight myself constently, I must be a good worker, mother, wife, friend, daughter, citizen, play group mommy, social lite, housekeeper…I could probably keep going. The only thing that does get me through are smiles in the morning and at night from my daughter and three time a week I get to workout or go to yoga.

Keep up the articles!

Thanks!
Jennifer

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Katrina

Oh, I’m glad you found the site. I’ll be posting the audio from the radio interview tomorrow morning.

I love that you added “citizen” and “social lite” to your list. I relate, I relate, I relate…

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RandomChick

THANK YOU! I just read your story over at the Huffington Post. You just told MY STORY almost EXACTLY. I’m still on Paxil and trying to get off. I, too, had panic attacks and am trying to work, raise two small children, keep my marriage in tact, pay my mortgage, and make a difference in this world. I CAN do it all! But do I really want to??? I’m still figuring that one out. BUT THANK YOU AGAIN!!!

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Katrina

Thank you! I wish I could post all the emails people have sent describing their own variation of the same story. It’s incredibly validating to know how many people are experiencing the same struggle.

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Leslie

I just found your blog through MomsRising.org, and I think it’s wonderful. I see the problem and feel the weight of it every single day. What I want to know is how do I become part of the solution? I honestly don’t know. But I’m tired of sitting around being angry about it… I’d like to take action (beyond signing online petitions).

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Stevie

Hello Leslie, you just have to know where to look. Solutions are all around us. My team and I specialize in helping moms make a difference in their household, so they will have the balance and time to do what matters most to them.

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Ashley Boyd

Hi Leslie — I work with MomsRising. If you want to email me directly to ashley at momsrising.org, I could suggest some more direct action ways to get involved. So many of us are tired about sitting with the anger and hopelessness too. Take care!

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Amy in Texas

Working and raising kids can’t be made easier by legislation, because the legislation didn’t cause the problem.
When women are forced to raise the children and earn the money that makes for a miserable life a lot of the time.
I raise two kids and log 50+ hours at my job. The father’s pitiful contribution really don’t add up to kind of help for us, just the occasional Disneyland thrill and a sense of loss, alternating.
When American society gave men a pass out of marriage it was the doom of women. Not for “marriage” but for the kids.
Some men do stick around and actually help and see the children, but in my experience (everyone I know, and hundreds my students families over the years) it’s not that often.
It’s admirable that you are advocating for a more “family friendly” workplace, but that’s not the answer to women’s struggle to do it all.
The women shoulder the responsibility and the men go off to do their thing.

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Val

Okay, I am feeling sorry for myself but things ARE hard for women today! Women seem to have so many primary roles!!!
My husband has been trying to find himself with new careers since his previous profession has gone dry — hence, I am the primary bread-winner, primary care-taker of a 2 year old (since my husband is always gone – working hard but not contributing equally to the household expenses) AND the care taker of the house — the place is a mess! My husband seems to be okay with it – I can’t live this way! I truly feel burnt out and it has REALLY affected our marriage – to the point that I have had it and literally want to run away! I am tired and want to simply, remove the turmoil. Sell the big house, try to afford a maid, simplify… But my husband seems to be okay w/ this state of upheaval – while I am tired, so tired… Men don’t get it – I wonder if they are capable of understanding all that we have on our plate?

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Katrina

Great question:

“Men don’t get it – I wonder if they are capable of understanding all that we have on our plate?”

I think it’s impossible for men (or anyone) to “get it” until they try doing it.

Thanks for your comment and hang in there. You’re in great company.

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Rebecca

Well I’m not trying to have it all. I’m just trying to have enough. Enough being a roof over my head, food to eat and a little savings set aside for my 3 big unexpected emergency bills…Cars, kids and canines.

I don’t think I have unattainable expectations for myself as a mother but I’m still stressed out. My expectations for my life and my son’s life are: Not to let my son grow up dirt poor like I did (Which he would if I didn’t work as his father cannot hold down a job for longer than a year). Not because I had a terrible childhood because I didn’t. I had wonderful parents and a roof over my head. But because I see everyday at work the the shocking advantages the people who grew up in more well to do families had over me. These people do not work harder and certainly are not more intelligent than myself but what they did have is a leg up from their financially solid parents. This is what I want for my son. For him to have the opportunities that I didn’t have. I want to stress that I don’t mean to hand him every little thing that his little heart desires. I want to make opportunities available to him.

I work long hours and I am lucky to have a flexible schedule so that I do the bulk of my overtime early (EARLY) in the mornings so that I have my evenings and weekends free for my son. My apartment is generally a wreck. My husband is incapable of truly cleaning it. He might do some laundry one day and vacuum the floors the next but there is always a mess somewhere. I do my best to ignore it and spend one weekend a month cleaning it from top to bottom.

I try to have one day a month that is just for me. Usually it’s just a little ‘me’ shopping but sometimes it’s hanging out with friends. I’ve also recently made an effort to do something extra special once a year that is just for me. Usually something from my bucket list.

So the question is: are my expectations to high?

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Stevie

I Help Working Moms To Re-create Their Health and Financial Future In An Industry with Explosive Growth, So They’ll Have More Free Time and Freedom To Be There For The Kids During The Important Years.

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fogamer

For me as a mother it is also important for me to work to help my husband for our expenses and saving for future, but it’s more important for me to take good care my 2 kids with myself.

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Ozgirl

Hi

I just saw you on Australian TV talking about your blog & book. I feel like I have been through something similar to yourself. Having moved from the UK 5 years ago to Australia, I couldn’t believe how behind some Australian companies are in their attitudes to working mums.

That said, I have a husband who works away every other week – as a consequence, I am primary carer for our son and my career has completely derailed.

Choices…it is all down to choices. Unfortunately, my body & mind eventually told me I couldn’t do it all – diagnosed with stress & anxiety and still on medication for that!

Who knows what the answers are…for me, taking care of myself, working part-time in a lower-demanding job & being there for my son & husband. I no longer have a career and financially, we struggle but that is the CHOICE we have made – because what is the alternative?

Good luck with your blog & book:)

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Jen M

I can’t tell you how relieved I am about this book and all of the comments here.

The new full time for everyone is 60 hours in the office plus extra time from home evenings and weekends. This is what companies expect now, anything less and you are considered lazy and entitled, by your managers and your coworkers. This isn’t sustainable for anyone – our society is ruder and more hostile than ever before – there has to be a link.

I wonder if the charge for flexible hours and work life balance were led by men, whether it would be met by less hostility.

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Angela

I’m glad you’re doing better and that you’ve written a book to help other moms who find themselves in similar situations

But let’s get REAL.

You obviously have no idea how fortunate you are. I would have loved to have a wonderful husband and children who contributed to my nervous break-down. But I wasn’t that lucky.

I divorced a man who abused me, and I never found anyone who wanted to have kids with me. I am 50 now so having kids is out of the question.

At least you HAVE Kids and a loving husband. Stop complaining. You’ll probably sell more books that way.

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Jennifer Friedman

I just started reading the book and see it as my lifeline! I’m a working mom of 2 girls (ages 2 and 7) and the bigger breadwinner. I feel like I’m just inches from my own on-the-way-to-Target breakdown and your book (and now your blog!) are helping me realize I’m not crazy and I do need to figure out some changes. What those changes will be is the big question. Need to keep reading! Thank you for putting it all out there and telling the truth!

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Katrina

Thank you, Jennifer. No, you’re not crazy! Keep reading! :)

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Rebecca

Your site is such a relief to read. I have returned to work after 7 years of being a stay at home Mom. I have been working for 2 years and every day feels like a battle. My children are in school but I still feel completely overwhelmed with the responsibilities of it all. My husband tries to help but I think after all my years of being the only person taking care of the house and spending most of the time with my children it just makes me feel inadequate when he does those things that I used to do. Plus he TOTALLY misses the things like clipping the kids nails. When I read that title I thought you had been eavesdropping in our house it was so spot on to how I feel about the home responsibilites. Thank you so much for this resource, I just hope it can help me find my place in this new situation I am in.

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Anonymous

Everybody’s talking about working mommy burnout – where is the solution? Seriously, I am beginning to think it won’t make a difference to my husband and kids if I’m around or not. I don’t have the health insurance to provide therapy (nor the salary to pay out of pocket) and even if I did, I wouldn’t have the time to go. Yet everyone around me pushes me – work harder! achieve more at work! work out more! do more for the community! I’m also curious to see how many female suicides are working moms.

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