The Importance of Motherhood Among Women in the Contemporary United States

Gend Soc. 2008 Aug 1;22(4):477-496. doi: 10.1177/0891243208319359.


We contribute to feminist and gender scholarship on cultural notions of motherhood by analyzing the importance of motherhood among mothers and non-mothers. Using a national probability sample (N = 2,519) of U.S. women ages 25-45, we find a continuous distribution of scores measuring perceptions of the importance of motherhood among both groups. Employing OLS multiple regression, we examine why some women place more importance on motherhood, focusing on interests that could compete with valuing motherhood (e.g., education, work success, leisure), and controlling for characteristics associated with becoming a mother. Contrary to cultural schemas that view mother and worker identities as competing, we find that education level is not associated with the importance of motherhood for either group and that valuing work success is positively associated with valuing motherhood among mothers. Consistent with feminist explanations for delayed fertility, valuing leisure is negatively associated with valuing motherhood for non-mothers.