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Americans bullish on women in workplace

Monday, March 19, 2012  
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When asked what they think of women being more than 50 percent of the workforce, most Americans view the trend in a positive way, despite the tradeoffs that both women and men must make to balance work and family life, according to results of a poll by The Allstate Corporation and National Journal magazine.

More than half (56 percent) of American men and women consider gender diversity to have a positive impact on the economic health of the country, and 36 percent of men and 39 percent of women cite "a flexible work schedule to pursue outside interests and spend time with your family" as their first or second most important reason for working, according to The 12th quarterly Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor Poll.

Nearly eight in 10 Americans, including 83 percent of men and 75 percent of women, who have held a job in their lives believe they can advance in the workplace regardless of gender, the poll revealed.

While full-time working women earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man working full-time, the genders differed on the "best explanation” for the disparity. Nearly half of women and almost 40 percent of men said the wage gap is caused by many women leaving jobs, scaling back their hours or dedicating more time than men to family care responsibilities. Only 27 percent of Americans cite gender discrimination as the best explanation for the wage gap. Overall, 79 percent of Americans (including 75 percent of women) who have held a job believe they can advance in the workplace regardless of gender.

"This poll shows that belief in the American dream remains strong notwithstanding our economic challenges,” said Thomas J. Wilson, chairman, CEO and president of Allstate. "Americans once again show their ability to have a sophisticated conversation around complicated issues such as gender, economics or race. [Americans] acknowledge that gains have been made in creating opportunity for women but that more can be done.”

Fewer than half (48 percent) of Americans and only 40 percent of women believe that men and women have equal opportunity to advance in the workplace. Conversely, more than two-thirds of women say they have more opportunity than their mothers did to get ahead in society, while only 45 percent of men say they have more opportunity than their fathers.

"Despite the persistence of the wage gap and some continued doubts about equal opportunity, the most powerful sentiment among women in this poll is a sense of doors opening, especially when compared with previous generations,” said National Journal Editorial Director Ronald Brownstein. "Even as both men and women wrestle with balancing their home and work responsibilities, the poll found that the era of ‘mommy wars’ between working and stay-at-home mothers is being replaced by women who are comfortable shifting between the two roles, at a pace and proportion that they control.”

Americans generally believe that the change to a majority-female workforce is encouraging and will have a positive impact on the country, but there are wide differences in opinion between age groups. A total of 56 percent of Americans believe the changing gender makeup of American workers is "encouraging and it will have a positive impact on the country because the economy will benefit from a workforce that represents more of the unique talents and skills offered by women.”

Conversely, 32 percent believe the change is "troubling and it will have a negative impact on the country because it reflects a shift away from the traditional family structure where women could devote more time to raising children and running the household.” Nearly three-fourths of those aged 18 to 29 say the change is encouraging, but only 41 percent of respondents 65 and over agree.

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