It’s Not All About Money

There are some women (it has become very many in fact) who have to work to provide for the needs of their families. To you I say, do the very best you can. I hope that if you are employed full-time you are doing it to ensure that basic needs are met and not simply to indulge a taste for an elaborate home, fancy cars, and other luxuries. -Gordon B. Hinckley, 1996 Reference A

My daughter knows me well.

My daughter knows me well.

Statements like this one by former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley belie an assumption that paid employment for women is only about money:

  1. Financially secure women who work outside the home are assumed to be doing so because of a greedy desire for more money.
  2. The only good reason for a woman to work outside the home is a dire need for money.

This dichotomy neglects the many other reasons a woman may be employed.

In 1959, Frederick Herzberg, in the book, The Motivation to Work, introduced Motivation-Hygiene Theory (also known as Two-Factor Theory). His findings showed that money was not a primary motivator in the workplace. Instead, employees were motivated by enjoyment of the work itself and by the advancement, recognition, achievement, and growth opportunities the work brings. Reference B

Personally, I feel motivated to work outside the home because I love the work and the contributions I can make to my community at large. While motherhood is rewarding in its own way, many of my strongest skills are not exercised by motherhood. In my paid employment, I work in fields that I have chosen to study because they interest me and align with my personal talents. In contrast, I spend a great deal of my at-home time cleaning up spills and searching for lost shoes, tasks that never interested me at all.

Housework is so intrinsically unenjoyable to me that it is hard for me to imagine how it could be that in 1963, when The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was published, the idea that a lifetime of uninterrupted housework wouldn’t fulfill a woman was groundbreaking.

Basic decisions as to the upbringing of children, interior decoration, menu-planning, budget, education, and recreation do involve intelligence, of course. But as it was put by one of the few home-and-family experts who saw the real absurdity of the feminine mystique, most housework, the part that still takes the most time, “can be adequately handled by an eight-year-old child.” -Betty Friedan Reference C

I beg to differ on that final point. My eight-year-old child can’t do basic chores without constant parental prodding.  The rest rings true to me. While some motherly activities exercise my intellect, the majority of my motherly time is spent on chores that just aren’t that fulfilling.

In a completely unscientific study with a sample size of one, I charted out the proportion of time I spend in various fulfilling and unfulfilling tasks of motherhood and contrasted that to the way my workplace time is divided.

Time Distribution of My Mothering Tasks

Time Distribution of Career Tasks

Of course, these results are not generalizable to other women. Other women may enjoy housework more than I do. (That’s a low bar.) They could be better household managers, accomplishing the less fulfilling tasks of motherhood more quickly. (Unfortunately, that is also a low bar.) Some families have adequate income to hire out housework. Many women do not have the opportunity to be employed in fields that they find personally fulfilling, so staying at home is comparatively more attractive. And of course, duration of time is not the only consideration. Some women have similar motherhood time allocation charts as I do but find the fulfilling parts of their day to be rewarding enough to compensate for spending the majority of their time in less fulfilling tasks.

Money is an important factor, but in a different way. Herzberg categorized salary as a “hygiene factor.” Regardless of how personally fulfilling the work may be, employees were unsatisfied if their salaries were inadequate. Other hygiene factors included positive working relationships and good working conditions.Reference B

Friedan saw a link between paid work and fulfilling work:

Even if a woman does not have to work to eat—she can find identity only in work that is of real value to society—work for which, usually, our society pays.   Being paid, of course, is more than a reward—it implies a definite commitment. -Betty Friedan, 1963 Reference C

Friedan clarified that women need not always be employed for pay; there is room for periods of stay-at-home motherhood as part of a long-term life plan:

The only kind of work which permits an able woman to realize her abilities fully, to achieve identity in society in a life plan that can encompass marriage and motherhood, is the kind that was forbidden by the feminine mystique; the lifelong commitment to an art or science, to politics or profession. It permits year-to-year variation—a full-time paid job in one community, part-time in another, exercise of the professional skill in serious volunteer work or a period of study during pregnancy or early motherhood when a full-time job is not feasible. It is a continuous thread, kept alive by work and study and contacts in the field. –Betty Friedan, 1963 Reference C

Five years after a talk that reduced women’s desire to work outside the home to either monetary need or monetary greed, Hinckley seemed to have a change of heart. He broke precedent and praised a married, employed mother as a role model:

The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part. I was in the hospital the other day for a few hours. I became acquainted with my very cheerful and expert nurse. She is the kind of woman of whom you girls could dream. When she was young she decided she wished to be a nurse. She received the necessary education to qualify for the highest rank in the field. She worked at her vocation and became expert at it. She decided she wanted to serve a mission and did so. She married. She has three children. She works now as little or as much as she wishes. There is such a demand for people with her skills that she can do almost anything she pleases. She serves in the Church. She has a good marriage. She has a good life. She is the kind of woman of whom you might dream as you look to the future. -Gordon B. Hinckley, 2001 Reference D

Unfortunately for women like me, who find working outside the home fulfilling, the 2001 Hinckley talk proved to be an aberration, not the beginning of a new trend. I do not know of any other doctrinal talks by LDS General Authorities that praise married, working mothers.  On the bright side,  some currently serving apostles have been less critical of women in the workforce than some of their predecessors:

These are very emotional, personal decisions…we should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances. -Quentin L. Cook, 2011 Reference E 

We do not diminish the value of what women or men achieve in any worthy endeavor or career—we all benefit from those achievements. -D. Todd Christofferson, 2013 Reference F

However, the LDS Church continues its policy of not hiring mothers of children 18 and younger as seminary and institute teachers and firing married, female seminary and institute teachers for becoming mothers. Reference G Reference H This action sends a stronger message to young people about how to judge working mothers than any admonition from the pulpit “not to be judgmental.” Reference E

While married, working mothers are absent as role models in Mormon sermons and as paid seminary and institute teachers, we find many of them among us in our congregations. I look forward to the day when we really “do not diminish the value of what women…achieve in any worthy…career.” Reference F When that day comes, it will no longer be necessary for accomplished, Mormon mothers to apologize for their paid work, explaining it away with the comment, “We needed the money.”  I hope someday our discussions about our careers will sound more like those observed by Friedan among fulfilled women in 1963:

The money [women] earned often made life easier for the whole family, but none of them pretended this was the only reason they worked, or the main thing they got out of it. That sense of being fully a part of the world—“no longer an island, part of the mainland”—had come back. They knew that it did not come from the work alone, but from the whole—their marriages, homes, children, work, their changing, growing links with the community. -Betty Friedan, 1963 Reference C

B.  Herzberg, F. The Motivation to Work. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.: 1959.

C. Friedan, B. The Feminine Mystique.  W.W. Norton & Company: 1963.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at

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15 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Wow! Love this post, April. Absolutely, we need a better narrative than the one of Mormon women working for need or greed. The hinkley quote about the nurse is very encouraging. I hope that narrative gets developed more in the future. We do a disservice to our younger women when working gets reduced to monetary considerations.

  2. Nona says:

    I just can’t say enough good things about this post.

  3. ErinAnn says:

    I just had a conversation with my husband last night about how I need to be contributing to society directly. I feel like a user being a stay at home mom. Particularly since my education is incomplete (I am currently remedying that) and I have random job experience in my past, and none for the past 10 years. I am unfulfilled at home.

    We are taking strides to change our family situation so that I can do more school/personal work and less chauffeuring.

  4. TopHat says:

    My mom worked all but 3 years of my childhood, but it was always with a, “I’m doing this because we need money. I wouldn’t do it if we didn’t,” addendum. I never really saw myself wanting to work because it seemed like my mom never did. I’m sad about that now. I didn’t set myself up well in college for a real career.

  5. Pepper S. says:

    For me, work has been my personal ticket out of postpartum depression after two births and several miscarriages. Just a few hours here and there at first until I get my groove back, now I work 20-30 hours a week, self-employed, mostly during naptime and after bedtime and about 6 hours a week with the help of a babysitter. I let the guilt talk me into quitting a couple times and not only was I an unhappier person for it, but I was a lousy mother. It wasn’t till our financial situation forced me back into work again most recently that I finally admitted it: I’m a better mother when I’ve been pursuing my own projects. I’m more grateful for my time with my kiddos when I’ve spent some time being me. I’m more productive as a housekeeper when I have a schedule full of diverse tasks. After a couple hours of invoicing and phone calls and revisions, sweeping cheerios off the kitchen floor doesn’t seem so bad! The money is just a side perk (when it’s not a necessity).

  6. Abbey says:

    I too wish to work to use talents, feel like I’m productive, and to stave off depression. For a short time I had a full-time job while my husband stayed home with our first born ( he was also in school and worked a few hours) and I remember that I was happier. I didn’t need to go to a counselor and try medication that didn’t work. I talked to other adults and felt useful. I didn’t mind as much doing things around the house. I didn’t finish school though and I feel guilty for wanting a job that interests me, that I can feel good doing because we actually do need the money.

  7. Melody says:

    Great post, April! And great comments too.

    I cringed as I read the statement by President Kimball. I remember when he said it. And the idea that any man feels he has authority to define what is best for women is abhorrent to me. Even when that man is a prophet. Even when his intentions are good. Even when I am a devout Latter-day Saint. Every woman needs to find ways to nurture those she loves while honoring her God-given intellect and talents.

    I necessarily worked throughout my children’s growing up years. I feel fortunate to have been mostly a SAHM during most of their pre-school years. But, because I divorced and chose not to remarry while they were young, I became the sole provider. I would have been happier to be able to be home more – to simply be more present in their lives. They wanted me home and said as much. Interestingly, it all worked out well. My children are happy, healthy adults now. My daughters have told me they see me as an example of independence and this gives them confidence to do the same if that’s what they choose. And my son is proud to have a professionally successful mom. I think the world has changed significantly in the last thirty years. Regardless of what may or may not be preached from the pulpit, women and men are finding balance at home and at work in ways that most of us didn’t imagine when I was a young mom.

  8. Starla says:

    Great post April! President Kimballs talk hurt my mother more than it has me. At the time she was working FT with two little ones. She felt such wrenching guilt about it and she saw a number of her friends in the ward cut back or auit their jobs because of it.

    Now years and years later she is retired with a full pension, and although she doesn’t have to, she works PT and finds great fulfillment in it. Although my mother definitely didn’t work just for the money, she has benefited tremendously from staying in the workforce.

    Some of these friends who dropped out years ago have really suffered for that past decision. There have been divorces, problems with kids etc. and while some were just fine, they aren’t reaping the benefits of a full and generous pension/retirement. My mother travels, goes out and can do a lot of fun and fulfilling things now that she wouldn’t have been able to had she dropped out back then.

  9. MB says:

    Whatever a person decides to do in terms of their at-home/at-work ratio in their life is up to them and I will generally trust their judgment.

    Reading through these comments I would add just one thing. Whether a person spends much time at work outside their home or little, I think they do others a disservice when they say that those who have made the same decision they did are better off than those who made a different one.

    Each choice has its gains and its sacrifices. Each person decides which set of gains and sacrifices she wishes to take on according to the needs she sees as most important in her situation. Because one set of gains and sacrifices is the one a person chooses does not make her choice better than the choice of another individual whose choice resulted in a different set of gains and sacrifices. I think you already understand it.

    And, understanding that, I think it is vital to remember that the most important issue is not whether or not taking on a job or career is right or wrong, or supported by authority figures or institutions or not. The most important issue is that we not have a personal need to justify our decision to others in order to feel good about it, or worse, declare that those who have made a different one are missing out.

    Listening to others justify themselves may make me automatically want to justify my own decisions, but it is not sufficient reason for me to respond with my own justification for my choices or point out the cons of the decisions made by those who chose differently . Nor, I hope, am I unsure enough of my decisions that I need my peers who have made choices similar to mine talk about the blessings of theirs in order to bolster my confidence in what I have chosen. Self-justification and pointing out the negative reasons why we’ve not chosen something else a sister has chosen divides us. Being fine with and feeling supportive others’ choices that are different from ours frees us.

    And I’m all for unity and freedom.

  10. Naismith says:

    It’s great that you are enjoying your career, and I particularly appreciate the chart. I also feel that I get a lot out of my paid work. But why you didn’t simply share how well things have worked for you? I don’t understand the effort to paint a straw-man argument against a church stand on employment for moms (which may or may not exist).

    The pulpit quotes did not include Elder Ballard’s wonderful comments from April 2008 General Conference in which he observed, “There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children.” He also acknowledged the need for fulfillment through something other than parenting, counseling, “…even as you try to cut out the extra commitments, sisters, find some time for yourself to cultivate your gifts and interests. Pick one or two things that you would like to learn or do that will enrich your life, and make time for them. Water cannot be drawn from an empty well, and if you are not setting aside a little time for what replenishes you, you will have less and less to give to others, even to your children.”

    Your list of assumptions from a 14-year-old talk from a dead prophet is not as obvious and automatic as it might seem. For one thing, he addresses only fulltime employment. Also, I absolutely believe that for many people, especially women who have been abused, having a paycheck in their own name IS a need. And he has been very clear elsewhere (as President Monson has also reiterated on several occasions), that we must never judge one another’s choices nor use something as trivial as employment status as a marker of righteousness.

    I do hear the church speaking up for women who choose or need to be fulltime mothers, but it is not a zero-sum game. Being for one is not against the other. It is music to my ears because church is the ONLY place that I hear support for the choice to be a fulltime mom, or acknowledgement of the work that it takes. Since those employed full-time already get a bunch of strokes from being accepted as normal by their neighbors and the kudos that come from professional success, I don’t see why the church needs to pile on. Rather, they seem to be trying to provide some balance.

    I assume you are correct about the policy regarding seminary teachers, but at first I couldn’t figure out what you were talking about because paid released-time seminary teachers are not something with which my family has experience. My daughters’ seminary teacher had a baby during their December finals week, and returned to teaching in January. And having listened to the BYU new speeches podcast for the last decade, there are apparently a lot of BYU faculty, including department chairs, who are mothers of young children. So the policy is only in one small arm of the church’s hiring, apparently.

    I think the current church viewpoint on women’s employment is best summed up by the remarks of Julie B. Beck at the 2011 BYU Women’s Conference:
    “One of the questions that I get frequently is, “Is it okay if I work outside of my home?” The question of whether or not to work is the wrong question. The question is, “Am I aligned with the Lord’s vision of me and what He needs me to become and the roles and responsibilities He gave me in heaven that are not negotiable? Am I aligned with that, or am I trying to escape my duties?” Those are the kinds of things we need to understand. Our Heavenly Father loves His daughters, and because He loves us and the reward at the end is so glorious, we do not get a pass from the responsibilities we were given. We cannot give them away. They are our sacred duties and we fulfill them under covenant.”

    It might be easy to dismiss this as codewords for insisting that every mom really should be at home fulltime, but I take it at face value, sincerely believing that each of us have to find our mission in life and do what the Lord wants of us. And I was impressed with the January 29, 2014 BYU forum address from Andrea B. Thomas, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Walmart Stores U.S., who has three small children. It was clear from her talk that she felt a sense of mission about her paid work. Her efforts to bring healthier foods onto Walmart shelves in her previous position was inspired by a lady at church who was diabetic and complained about how expensive it was to try to maintain a healthy diet. So thanks to Sister Thomas, we can buy a house brand of brown sugar substitute and lower-fat margarine at reasonable price. As I heard Sister Thomas speak, it was clear that she was doing what the Lord wanted to at that point in time.

    Why would BYU invite her to speak and let her serve on the B-school advisory council if she is a Bad Example?

  11. Jenny says:

    Great post April. I think this discussion is important to have. If we spend more time sharing real experiences, and discussing the real benefits and conflicts of all the many choices families can make in regards to children and work, I think our youth will be better equipped to make good solid decisions about what is best for them personally. It shouldn’t be a moral decision of right and wrong, but a personal decision of what is best for individual women and families. I enjoyed hearing your perspective. I chose to stay home for the last eight years. I definitely can’t say that it was right or wrong. It was just what worked best for my family at the time and it has Ben a great experience for me. After eight years though, I am definitely feeling the need to do something more fulfilling than clean messes and change diapers. For my own daughters, I hope they can hear many stories from many women, So that they can make a well informed decision that will be just right for them. I hope that the church culture will allow for that by then, instead of moralizing this decision and inducing guilt for making the”wrong” decision.

  12. Ziff says:

    Great post, April! I particularly like the pie charts comparing mothering work and career work. It’s crazy that we get such strong messages telling women that they’re somehow wrong if they experience things this way rather than the other way around.

  13. Stephanie says:

    Before I started working (full-time at home while taking care of my kids full-time, too), I was often frustrated by the idea that a man can choose a career suited to his talents and interests. Men in the church are encouraged to figure out what is fulfilling to them, but women are expected to love the one job that is assigned to them. I was chagrined even more when I came across this quote by President Ezra Taft Benson the other day: ““It is divinely ordained what a woman should do, but a man must seek out his work. The divine work of women involves companionship, homemaking, and motherhood.” The idea that part of my role as a women is to be a companion to my husband (as if that is more than his companionship to me because it is part of my “job”) is so offensive.

  1. November 15, 2014

    […] female employees or forego the benefits of seminary instruction for my children. And as I mentioned in a recent Exponent post, the discriminatory seminary and institute policy was actually undermining teachings by current […]

  2. July 23, 2016

    […] by church leaders.  The rhetoric against working mothers is softening, but has been replaced mostly by silence about working mothers, not […]

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