If you have time, do read these two online articles: the first, entitled ‘Working Moms: Women With Three Children Less Likely To Have Jobs Than Those With Two, Study Says’, reports on the findings of a research study in Australia, published in July, which looked at how women with more than two children were less likely to be in employment than women with fewer than two children. The second, on bnet.com, written by Laura Vanderkam, is called ‘More Kids Won’t Kill Your Career-Unless You Want Them To’ and takes slight issue with the findings, pointing out that the figures are less depressing than mothers of three or more children might think.
I might be said to have a vested interest, as I have three children of my own and a career, but in fact I was just curious to explore why it might be that the study findings were as they were (other than, of course, the obvious costs both financially and in time of managing large families). What was really interesting, however, was that despite the headline – which re-emphasised the ‘difficulty’ aspect of working motherhood, as captured too in the film and book ‘I don’t know how she does it’ (see my previous blog) – the facts were somewhat different. In fact, an average of 55% of the women with three children interviewed in the study actually did work outside the home. This means that women with three children were more likely to work than not to work – a fact which did not make the headlines. Given that only 21% of women under 30 with three children were working, (not surprising, as it is quite hard to manage to have three children before the age of 30 as well as study and work), then this suggests that a much higher proportion of older women with three children were working too.
So the picture is not bleak at all … but in any case, I would question whether we should even worry about statistics, except in as far as they highlight areas where employers need to address hurdles which prevent women from working and having families. Let’s move instead away from an entrenched position where we assume that life is difficult for working mothers; what really matters is that women are allowed to make their own choices, and that there is nothing to prevent this happening. As Laura Vanderkam says at the end of her article, ‘Sure, it’s challenging, but so are most things that are worth doing in life. Three kids doesn’t have to be the kiss of death, and isn’t for most Australian women, apparently. Even if that didn’t make the headlines.’