Education and Skills

When should a woman have children if she’s thinking about running for office?

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holds her baby Neve after speaking at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit during the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2018. Picture taken September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri - RC1C335A3E10

Many women who run for political office already have children. Image: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Ruth Igielnik
Senior Researcher, Pew Research Center
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As moms across the United States celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, five of the six women vying for the Democratic presidential nomination are themselves mothers.

These women, all seeking the same high political office, became mothers at different points in their careers – some while they were starting out in politics and others long before that.

Image: Pew Research Center

Roughly half of Americans (51%) say it’s better for a woman who wants to reach high political office to have children before entering politics, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center surveyon gender and leadership. About a quarter (26%) say it would be better to wait until she is well-established in her political career, while 19% say it would be better for a woman not to have children at all if she plans to seek higher office.

Views are different when it comes to leadership positions in the business world. About a quarter of Americans (23%) say it’s better for women who want to reach top executive jobs in business to have children early in their careers, 41% say they should wait and 34% say it’s better for them not to have children at all.

Image: Pew Research Center

When thinking specifically about women seeking high political office, men are somewhat more likely than women to say having children early gives women a better chance of succeeding – 56% vs. 47%. Still, 24% of men and 29% of women say a woman should wait until she’s well established, politically, before having children. Smaller shares of both groups say women are most successful in politics if they don’t have children.

There is no noticeable partisan divide over the best time for women to have children. Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party hold similar views to Republicans and those who lean Republican, with roughly half of both groups saying it’s best for women to have children early and about one-quarter saying they should wait until they’re established.

Image: Pew Research Center

Among women, there is a significant age gap in views on this issue. A majority (60%) of women ages 65 and older say a woman should have children before entering politics, while only 30% of women ages 18 to 29 say the same. Instead, four-in-ten women ages 18 to 29 say women should wait until they’re well established in their political careers to have children. Just one-quarter of women 65 and older say this is the best choice.

Women’s views also differ by their level of education. About four-in-ten women without a four-year college degree (42%) say a woman has the best chance of success in politics if she has children early; 57% of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher say this. About one-third (32%) of less educated women, compared with 21% of college graduates, say a woman who wants to reach high political office should wait until she is well established in her career to have children.

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Women who are mothers themselves have somewhat different views on this than women who don’t have young children. Mothers of children younger than 18 are more likely than other women to say a woman who aspires to high political office should wait until she’s established in her political career before having children. About one-third (36%) of mothers say a woman who wants to reach this type of position is better off waiting to have children, compared with 26% of those without children under 18.

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