Few Say It's Ideal for Both Parents to Work Full Time Outside of Home

by Chris McComb

Four in 10 say one parent should work part time, or work at home

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Day care has always been a hot topic for parents of young children, and the recent release of two controversial studies is likely to provoke them to re-evaluate their lifestyles and the choices they make for their children. One of these studies, conducted by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, claims that children attending day care tend to be somewhat more aggressive and disobedient by the time they reach kindergarten age than are those who stay home with a parent until kindergarten. The second study, conducted by the University of California at Berkeley and the Center for the Child Care Workforce, calls into question the competency of day-care staff members based on a high reported turnover rate and the hiring of replacements with less, and possibly inadequate, training. According to a January 1998 Gallup poll, nearly one-third of American parents with children aged 12 and younger had children who regularly attended a day care or child care program outside their homes. Therefore, these studies are striking a passionate chord with Americans by focusing attention on how families with young children should organize their lives.

Americans have reasonably strong opinions about issues concerning child care and ideal working situations. According to a Gallup poll conducted April 20-22, 2001, only 13% of Americans say the ideal situation is for both parents to work full time outside the home, but another 41% say it is ideal for one parent to work either part time or at home. An additional 41% believe it is best for one parent to stay at home solely to raise the children while the other parent works.

Age seems to have a significant influence on perceptions of the ideal working situation for a family. Support for having one stay-at-home parent increases with age. Thirty-one percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 believe that one parent ideally ought to stay home, compared to 38% of those 30 to 49 years old, 48% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 56% of those 65 and older. Alternately, support for having both parents working full time outside the home decreases with age, with 22% of 18- to 29-year-olds, 14% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 11% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and only 5% of those 65 and older supporting that scenario.

Men are slightly more supportive than women of having one parent stay home solely to care for the children and slightly less supportive of having one parent work part time while the other works full time outside the home. Nearly half of men -- 45% -- think it is ideal for one parent to stay home, compared to 38% of women, and 21% of men support one parent working part time, compared to 27% of women.

Nearly half of Americans who describe their ideology as conservative -- 49% -- believe that it's ideal for one parent to stay home solely to care for the children, compared to 36% of moderates and 38% of liberals. The idea of one parent working either from home or part time appeals to fewer conservatives (33%) than to moderates and liberals, with 45% and 49% support, respectively.

Who Should Work Part Time or Stay at Home -- the Mother or the Father?

Nearly seven in 10 -- 69% -- of those who think the ideal situation is to have one parent working at home or part time outside of the home believe that it doesn't matter which parent remains the full-time worker. Another 30% say the man should work full time. This represents a substantial shift from the last time Gallup posed this question, in July 1991. At that time, a smaller majority of Americans -- 55% -- agreed that it did not make any difference which parent worked full time and 44% felt that the father should work full time outside the home. In the intervening 10 years, it appears that a portion of those who felt the father was responsible for working full time outside the home have changed their opinion to reflect a growing acceptance of more flexible gender roles in parenting. However, traditions based on gender apparently do not die easily. In both 1991 and 2001, only 1% of those who said one parent should work part time or at home nominated the mother to work full time outside the home. Men and women appear to have relatively similar views concerning which parent should work outside the home.

Either the Mother Should Stay Home or It Doesn't Matter

Of those who believe one parent ought to stay at home solely to raise the children, 55% feel it doesn't make any difference which parent stays home. But the views of those who have a preference skew heavily toward a scenario in which the mother stays home. More than four in 10 -- 43% -- believe the mother should stay home and only 1% believe the father should stay home. Again, there has been a noticeable shift in these percentages since this question was last asked, in July 1991. At that time, a substantially greater percentage of the public believed that the mother should stay home solely to raise the children (63% in 1991 compared to 43% in 2001).

Survey Methods

The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,015 adults, 18 years and older, conducted April 20-22, 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Considering the needs of both parents and children, which of the following do you see as the ideal situation for a family in today's society -- [ROTATED: both parents work full time outside the home, one parent works full time outside the home, the other works part time, one parent works full time outside the home, the other works at home, (or) one parent stays at home solely to raise the children]?

 

 


Both parents work
full time

One parent full time,
one parent
part time

One parent full time, one parent works
at home

One parents stays at home to raise children



No
opinion

 

%

%

%

%

%

           

2001 Apr 20-22

13

24

17

41

5

           

1991 Jul 25-28

14

27

15

39

5

1989 Oct 1-4

7

42

15

33

3



Which parent do you think should work full time outside the home -- the husband, the wife, or doesn't it make any difference?

BASED ON -- 435 -- WHO THINK ONE PARENT SHOULD WORK PART TIME OR AT HOME; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 


Husband


Wife

Doesn't make
any difference

No
opinion

         

2001 Apr 20-22

30%

1

69

0

         

1991 Jul 25-28

44%

1

55

--



Which parent do you think should stay home solely to raise the children -- the husband, the wife, or doesn't it make any difference?

BASED ON -- 425 -- WHO THINK ONE PARENT SHOULD STAY AT HOME SOLELY TO RAISE CHILDREN; ±5 PCT. PTS.

 

 


Husband


Wife

Doesn't make
any difference

No
opinion

         

2001 Apr 20-22

1%

43

55

1

         

1991 Jul 25-28

3%

63

34

*



COMBINED RESPONSES

 

 

2001 Apr 20-22

   

Both parents work full time

13%

   

Husband works full time, wife works part time or at home

13

Wife works full time, husband works part time or at home

*

Either spouse works full time, other works part time or at home

28

   

Husband works full time, wife stays at home to raise children

18

Wife works full time, husband stays at home to raise children

*

Either spouse works full time, other stays at home to raise children

23

   

No opinion

5



 

Do any of your children regularly go to a day care or child care program outside your home?

   
 

1998 Jan 16-18

 

Yes

32%

No

67

Don't know/Refused

*

   

Note: Asked of those who have children aged 12 and younger.

* Less than 0.5%

 


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