WASHINGTON -- Harried American women believe their lives are being consumed by balancing jobs and families, according to a new national survey of what women think.
"Women's lives are marked by change, stress and satisfaction," according to "Women's Voices," described as the most exhaustive study of how women view their lives. "They have one foot firmly planted in their home and family and the other firmly planted in the workplace.
"Situated thus, women find that juggling work with family, and earning enough money for their family, dominate their day-to-day lives," concluded the study commissioned by the Ms. Foundation for Women and the Center for Policy Alternatives, two women's advocacy groups.
The report is to be released at a Washington press conference today, shortly before the presidential campaign enters its Labor Day stretch.
"This is the first major study of women's attitudes about their lives," said Marie Wilson, president of the Ms. Foundation.
The survey found the "family values" women are most worried about are checkbook rather than character issues.
More than half the women surveyed (51 percent) felt they had fallen behind economically in the past year, compared to 34 percent who thought they had stayed even and 13 percent who believed they were better off.
About a third of the women worried that they wouldn't be able to make ends meet, that someone in their family would lose their jobs or that they would become the sole supporter of their family.
Asked their top concerns, 22 percent of the women said health care, and 16 percent said rising prices, but only 7 percent mentioned abortion.
"Compared to the overwhelming concern women have about the economy, choice [abortion rights] has taken a back seat to women's economic worries for the moment," the report concluded.
Billed as the "first-ever bipartisan analysis of American women's attitudes and opinions across class, racial and regional lines," the study is based on a national telephone survey of 1,400 women and six focus groups of women. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.
The survey found the "two most precious resources" for women are "time and money" and they want government help in managing these resources.
As primary care-givers, most women think guaranteed health care should be a government priority, the report said. Most women would prefer flexible work hours to a regular work week. Most want the government to ensure pay equity.
The largest plurality of respondents (30 percent) said the biggest problem facing most women at work is combining work and family; 20 percent said discrimination in hiring, and 19 percent cited low pay.
Juggling job and family has become "the central issue that binds millions of American women," the report concluded.
"Women understand that this balancing act is not easy," it said. "And they know that society in general, and the government in particular, has not always been helpful."
The women were not unhappy: 84 percent said they are at least somewhat satisfied with their family lives and 84 percent of the employed women expressed the same sentiments about their jobs. Over three in every four said women's lives have improved over the past 25 years.
However, 74 percent believe the country would be better off if half the national leaders were women.
Their concerns tended to be more practical than philosophical. About one in four worried about fathers who don't pay child support; one in five worried about not having enough education to find a suitable job. Of the women with young children, 37 percent worried "a lot" that their child would get sick and there would be no one to provide care.
"Women have a clear issue agenda for themselves and their families," the survey found. "And economic concerns are at the center of this agenda."