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Attitudes to working mothers still entrenched

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Attitudes to working mothers still entrenched

Most New Zealanders approve of married women working full-time but approval drops dramatically when women have children.

The New Zealand end of an international survey on men, women and work shows that attitudes to women and paid work depend critically on whether she has children and how old they are.

Eighty three per cent of respondents approved of married woman working full-time before they have children but only 2 per cent approve of full-time work when women have children under school age.

Approval is higher (30 per cent) for mothers of young children working part-time and increases to 14 per cent for women working full-time after the youngest child starts school.

A substantial number – 40 per cent – believe a pre-school child is likely to suffer if the mother works and the same number believe family life suffers when a mother has a part-time job.

The survey, by Massey University’s Department of Marketing, traversed attitudes to job satisfaction and security, working conditions, and gender and work. It is part of the International Social Survey programme which involves leading academics in 40 countries in annual surveys on economic and policy issues, in seven-year cycles.

The New Zealand survey was taken last year. Lead researcher Professor Phil Gendall says it reveals mixed attitudes on gender issues, particularly working mothers. “Despite the attitudes expressed above, 50 per cent still believe that a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work, and 46 per cent believe working is the best way for a woman to be an independent person.

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“Interestingly, a significant proportion (37 per cent) agrees that being a housewife is just as fulfilling as working for pay. This suggests many do not consider paid work to be the defining characteristic of a woman’s role in the family.”

The survey shows that in the home, traditional gender roles are changing slowly. “In most households, women still do most of the housework, cooking, shopping and caring for sick children, while men do most of the repairs, putting out the rubbish and maintaining the car. Just under 50 per cent of respondents agreed that men should do a larger share of housework and childcare.

“However, in more than a third of households, couples are likely to share responsibility for looking after elderly parents, doing the gardening and shopping for groceries.”

Professor Gendall says in terms of attitudes to women and work overall, New Zealand is in a group of “modern” countries that includes Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Norway and the United States. This group contrasts strongly with "traditional" countries, incluing Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia and the Philippines.

The survey shows that most New Zealanders care less about what they are paid than whether their jobs are satisfying and interesting. However, 85 per cent “sometimes, often or always” experience exhaustion when they come home from work. “This is partly attributable to the fact that half of the respondents sometimes do hard physical work but stress at work also appears to be a major contributing factor,” says Professor Gendall.

All the same, most New Zealanders (80 per cent) are satisfied with their jobs and proud of the work they do and the firms and organisations they work for. A substantial number (65 per cent) said they were willing to work harder than required to help their firms succeed.

“Workplace relationships are generally good and most have some flexibility in how their daily work is organised and when they start and stop. Job security is not a major worry.”

Professor Gendall says by far the most important characteristic of a job is that it is interesting. “Ninety seven per cent regarded this as important compared with 70 percent who cited high income. The opportunity to work independently, to help other people and be useful to society also rates highly.”


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