A Growing Constituency For The View That Going To Work Isn’t So Ideal

When increasing numbers of women express a preference for staying at home vs. going to work, it’s interpreted as a resurgence in traditional female domesticity. When increasing numbers of men voice the same preference, it’s seen as a repudiation of traditional gender roles. Little attention is given to the possibility that many Americans of both sexes just don’t think work is as much fun as the modern alternatives.

Whatever people’s motives might be, Gallup polling finds women and men more apt to prefer the home life than they did at the start of this decade. The survey asked, “If you were free to do either, would you prefer to have a job outside the home, or would you prefer to stay at home and take care of the house and family?” Among women, 42 percent would opt to go out to work, while 53 percent would prefer to stay at home. In 2001, by contrast, go-to-work beat stay-at-home by 53 percent to 45 percent. Most men still prefer going to work rather than staying home, 68 percent vs. 27 percent. But that’s a modest shift since 2001, when work outpointed home by 73 percent to 24 percent. This continues a drift in male opinion since 1985, when work trounced home by 86 percent to 12 percent.

The trend is especially notable among young women. In Gallup’s 2001 poll, 56 percent of women age 18-49 said they’d prefer to work outside the home. In the new survey, that number had fallen to 40 percent. There’s been a less dramatic change of opinion among women age 50 and older: 48 percent in the 2001 poll said they’d prefer to work outside the home, vs. 43 percent in the new poll. Among men age 18-49, the go-to-work tally dipped from 70 percent in 2001 to 65 percent this year, while it fell from 80 percent then to 72 percent now among those 50-plus.

Polls over the years have found relatively few workers downright hostile toward their jobs. A recent one by Sirota Survey Intelligence (fielded mostly among employees of large companies) is typical in its finding that 76 percent of those with jobs like the work they do. However, this does not mean it’s preferable to the non-work alternatives. Having more money to spend on leisure pursuits than people did in earlier times, Americans have a fresh standard of reference by which to judge their hours of workplace toil. Likewise, the home in which they’d spend time if not at work is more likely than ever to have air conditioning, vast TV sets with dozens of channels, lavish kitchens in which to putter around, and numerous other modern amenities. Under the circumstance, need we be surprised if a day at work seems comparatively less attractive than it once did?