Moms prefer to work part time, so why don't they?

Judith Warner argues it's because it simply doesn't pay.

Published July 24, 2007 10:45PM (EDT)

In today's New York Times, Judith Warner writes about how the recent Pew Center news about working mothers' preference for part-time work was smuggled into "the fetid air of the mommy wars." But Warner cracks a metaphorical window by pointing out that we've long known about working and stay-at-home mothers' preference for part-time work. And instead of gawking open-mouthed at women's work preference and debating the feminist merits of full-time versus part-time work, she suggests asking why the hell they aren't getting their preference. After all, 60 percent of working moms prefer working part time, but only 24 percent actually do.

Warner answers her own question, breaking it down so: "Most women can't afford to. Part-time work doesn't pay. Women on a reduced schedule earn almost 18 percent less than their full-time female peers with equivalent jobs and education levels ... Part-time jobs rarely come with benefits. They tend to be clustered in low-paying fields like the retail and service industries. And in better-paid professions, a reduced work schedule very often can mean cutting down from 50-plus hours a week to 40-odd -- hardly a 'privilege' worth paying for with a big pay cut."

She then rattles off a list of enlightened European work-family policies: "Denying fair pay and benefits to part-time workers is now illegal. Parents in Sweden have the right to work a six-hour day at prorated pay until their children turn 8 years old. Similar legislation helps working parents in France, Austria, and Belgium and any employee in Germany and the Netherlands who wants to cut back."

Warner concludes: "I think that when it comes to setting priorities for (currently nonexistent) American work-family policy, we ought to go for the greatest good for the greatest number." To her, that means universal healthcare and banning benefit and wage discrimination against part-time workers or, in the very least, passing legislation to protect workers' ability to request part-time work without fearing punishment. (A draft of similar legislation is currently being developed stateside.)

Of course, Warner hints at the fact that even if all that is miraculously accomplished, we might later face a different dilemma, since, on the whole, women are more likely to take advantage of the part-time option: women's "economic disadvantage within their marriages and in society."

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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