Most lower-income working moms describe a career as ‘out-of-reach luxury’

Dive Brief:

  • Lower-income working mothers exhibit a similar desire for career progression as their middle- and high-income counterparts, a recent study conducted over the summer by the University of Phoenix and parenting platform Motherly found. However, barriers to career development leave them feeling disenchanted; 55% called their current role “just a job, not my career,” 65% said having a career “sounds like a luxury,” and 64% said while they would like to pursue a career, it feels “out of reach.”
  • The study found a higher degree of job volatility among lower-income working moms, with a third having switched jobs in the past year, versus 18% of their counterparts. They were more likely to switch jobs for a more flexible schedule or due to health or personal reasons, while middle- and high-income moms were more likely to cite a lack of growth opportunities or alignment with their career goals.
  • “For the lower-income mom, holistic wraparound services are necessary to ensure a path through the entire career journey toward self-sufficiency,” researchers concluded in the report, suggesting employers recognize the skills these women bring to the workplace and connect them with mentors and role models and with continuing education opportunities.

Dive Insight:

It is likely unsurprising that lower-income working mothers face greater financial obstacles, with 3 in 4 lower-income respondents to University of Phoenix’s and Motherly’s survey ranking money and personal finances as their top stressor. 

The report’s findings regarding career desire and interest stand as “a powerful repudiation of the notion that lower-income mothers are somehow less inclined to advance their careers,” however, the researcher wrote. 

Across the income spectrum, respondents recognized the ways motherhood added to their skill set; they listed multitasking, flexibility, decision-making, time management, adaptability and problem-solving among their top skills acquired through experience as a mom. But about half also said such skills are not valued in the workplace.

The inflexibility of scheduling for certain positions — the top reason lower-income moms listed for switching jobs — has been a key issue plaguing moms in the workplace for years. A recent BabyCenter study found that working moms experience child care difficulties an average of 3.6 days per month, making a lack of flexibility a particularly intractable problem. 

Mothers tend to bear the brunt of workplace inflexibility. A 2022 report from Werklabs and The Mom Project found that men and women experience flexibility differently at work, with women tending to need more organizational support, while men tend to be fine with only managerial support and may be less affected by organizational uncertainty. Women were also more likely to want flexible hours within a scheduled day, whereas men were more likely to appreciate pre-scheduled days and hours. 

Front-line work can present more challenges for flexibility, but employers can still find ways to adopt it. For example, a November report from PwC and the Manufacturing Institute found that half of manufacturing employers surveyed were able to offer dynamic scheduling, including compressed workweeks, shift bidding/swapping and adjusted shift time.