Moms can 'have it all,' says study Women need not pick between kids, career, says study

November 20, 1992|By Boston Globe

Professional women who are married and have children do not sacrifice their careers by pursuing the "mommy track," according to the authors of a new study about women and work.

On the other hand, women who single-mindedly devote themselves to work have not guaranteed themselves a place on the fast track, the Canadian study found.

Comparing single women without children, married women without children, and married women with children, researchers found that although childless women spent significantly longer hours on the job than working mothers, they did not make more money in their chosen fields. Nor did the childless women report greater job satisfaction as a result of their greater career involvement.

Married women with children, however, had greater self-esteem, less depression and declared themselves far more satisfied with their lives than either of the other two groups.

Although there are some differences between professional life for women in Canada and the United States, the study's lead author and other researchers said the findings, based on 1,100 Quebecois women, are applicable in the United States.

According to the primary researcher, Ethel Roskies, professor of psychology at the University of Montreal, the findings rebut the notion that women are faced with a choice between successful careers and family life.

"There are many barriers to career advancement, not just marriage or children," she said. Ms. Roskies and her colleagues believe that family responsibilities may serve "more as a convenient rationalization for the gap in income between male and female professionals, rather than constituting a real cause."

The findings will be presented tomorrow at a conference, "Stress in the '90s: A Changing Workforce in a Changing Workplace," being held this week in Washington. It is sponsored by the American Psychological Association in conjunction with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Although several other studies have shown that working mothers enjoy better mental health and higher levels of personal satisfaction than nonworking mothers, little research has dealt with assumptions about the impact of motherhood on income or job satisfaction. Most studies have compared women with men.

Ann Morrison, author of "Cracking the Glass Ceiling" and "The New Leaders," said, "This kind of study is valuable if only because it challenges so many assumptions. We assume women who try to have it all are stressed out, or that women who have child-care as a major responsibility wouldn't do as well at work. So this is encouraging."

Ms. Roskies said she was prompted to undertake the research project in 1989, in response to the idea of the "mommy track," a buzzword that surfaced after the publication in the Harvard Business Review of an article by Felice Schwartz, the founder of Catalyst, a New York-based non-profit consulting company on women and work.

Ms. Schwartz implied that corporations were losing money on working mothers who were not "career-primary," and that mothers were willing to trade career growth and compensation for freedom from long hours and constant pressure.

Although Ms. Schwartz and her colleagues at Catalyst denied that she was advocating a separate, but not equal, career path for women, Ms. Roskies said that the notion of the "mommy track" posed a choice for women: "If you give up marriage and children, then your chances to reach the sky are greater."

Her study looked at 1,123 women between the ages of 35 and 40, employed in the fields of medicine, law, accounting and engineering in Quebec province. Researchers compared the women in two general areas, career "patterns" and personal well-being.

According to her findings, women without children, married or single, report working significantly longer hours than their counterparts with children. For example, among lawyers, 24 percent of never-married women said they worked more than 50 hours a week, compared with only 12 percent of the working mothers.

However, a comparison of income between these lawyers, shows statistically insignificant differences in earnings between those who worked longer or shorter hours. The one exception to this pattern was found among physicians earning more than $100,000 a year; in that case, raising effort did increase the financial reward.

However, she said that may be a reflection of the difference between the Canadian and U.S. health care systems. "There may be fewer structural barriers to women in the Canadian [health] system," she said.

But in all cases, the women who reported longer hours and described themselves as being more involved in their jobs -- women without children -- were less likely to say they were satisfied with their careers.

Ms. Roskies said that the data suggesting that working mothers appear most satisfied with their lives should not be used as a cudgel with which to beat women who do not have children. "We have very little data on single, childless professional women," she said. She wondered whether the reason for this research gap might reflect the cultural disapproval of women who do not conform to traditional norms.

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