In the last 50 years, there has been a major shift in moms working outside the home. Changes in demographics are not the only factor driving family change. Over the past 50 years, the U.S. economy has been transformed on several dimensions. The manufacturing-based economy has been replaced by an information-based economy.
And the presence of women in the workplace has increased dramatically. In 1960, women comprised only 33% of the U.S. labor force. By 2009, women had reached near parity with men (47% of the workforce).
These dramatic changes in the economic status of women have had wide-ranging effects on family structure. In the 1950s and 1960s, most married women did not work outside the home, instead relying on their husbands’ income to support the family. In 1960, 32% of wives were in the labor force. By 2008, that share had risen to 61%.
Over that same period, women have made significant gains in educational attainment. In 1960, less than 6% of women had a college degree. By 2008, that share had climbed to 29%. Furthermore, for the past two decades, women have been the majority of new college graduates. As a result, among adults in their 20s and 30s today, more women than men have graduated from college. Along with their greater participation in the labor force, women began to delay marriage and have fewer children. In addition, women have been faced with the challenge of balancing marriage, motherhood, and work. A large majority of mothers with children younger than 18 (71%) are now in the labor force. In 1975, fewer than half of all mothers were working. Even among mothers of very young children (younger than 3), 60% are in the labor force, up from 34% in 1975.
In spite of the gains women have made in the educational arena and in the workplace, most of the public adheres to a fairly traditional view of which spouse should be the primary breadwinner. When asked in the current Pew Research Center survey how important it is that a woman be able to support a family financially in order to be ready for marriage, only 33% say this is very important. When asked a parallel question about men, 67% say it is very important that a man be able to support a family.
More than six-in-ten (62%) survey respondents endorse the modern marriage in which the husband and wife both work and both take care of the household and children; this is up from 48% in 1977. This shift has implications for us as we minister to families:
Working moms are good at multi-tasking. They are balancing work and home life. Being a mom is a full-time job in itself. Add to that a job outside the home, and by necessity, you’ve got someone who is good at keeping a lot of plates spinning. My wife works full-time, and I watch in amazement at all she accomplishes between home and work.
But multi-tasking can lead to stress…and lots of it. We can respond by providing a place where moms can come and be refilled through worship, Bible study, and spending time with other moms. I would be hesitant to “require” moms to serve in your children’s ministry. Yes, moms should serve…but sometimes, the best place for them to serve is away from their kids. Sometimes, they need a break from the kids. That’s not a blanket statement; some of our best children’s ministry volunteers are working moms. I would just steer away from “requiring” moms to serve in children’s ministry.
More working moms means more children in aftercare. This opens the door even wider for churches to lead after school Bible clubs and other outreach opportunities in local schools.
Families are under financial pressure. In many families, it takes dad and mom working just to make ends meet. Many divorces are caused by financial pressure. What a great opportunity to come alongside families and offer financial coaching and classes to help them manage their finances. What a great opportunity to help families through marriage classes that help them cope with the pressure.
Working moms are very busy and make choices with their time. The pace of our society keeps moms and families on the run. This leads to time priorities being established. When moms come to church, make sure you use the time wisely. Instead of a long list of programs that are mediocre, consider doing fewer programs with excellence. Your ministry calendar should be a direct pathway to where you want moms and families to be spiritually. Don’t program just to be programming. Be strategic with the time you have with moms and families so you can make the biggest impact.
Working moms look forward to spending time with their kids. Their children are still their top priority, and they cherish every moment they have with them. What a great opportunity to provide resources that moms can use to disciple their children. Provide easy, precise tools that they can use in the time they have. If it’s too long or cumbersome, it will more than likely sit on the shelf. But if it’s a tool that they can use not only for bedtime prayers but also pull up on their iPod while driving the kids to soccer practice, they are more likely to use it. Make sure you are creating resources and tools that will actually be used in today’s fast-paced culture.