May 12, 2023
Working mothers report high vitality and competence at work, but still feel stretched thin
working woman shaking the hand of her co-worker

While working mothers can face numerous challenges in their lives, they also enjoy an important distinction: As a group, mothers of children younger than 18 report having the highest levels of vitality among all women in the U.S. workforce.

A recent report from The Cigna Group defines vitality as the ability to pursue life with health, strength, and energy.

Our research found that the average vitality score for working mothers with children younger than 18 is 2.5 points higher than the average score of other employed women (68.6 compared to 66.1). However, working mothers’ average vitality score falls slightly below that of all working adults (69.3).

In addition to having higher vitality, working mothers are much more likely to say their health is “very good” or “excellent” than other employed women (overall health: 54% vs. 48%; physical health: 50% vs. 45%; mental health: 50% vs. 43%). This is despite the fact that working mothers are more likely to encounter social obstacles to maintaining good health. Those obstacles include cost issues that delay access to health care (30% vs. 18%) and medications (29% vs. 18%), as well as food insecurity (37% vs. 23%), insufficient income (45% vs. 33%), and housing instability (35% vs. 18%).

In general, however, a higher percentage of all working adults report “very good” and “excellent” ratings compared to working mothers for overall health (58%), physical health (55%), and mental health (57%).

Working mothers believe in themselves and their purpose

Working mothers also demonstrate higher levels of resilience, self-confidence, and competence than employed women without children. They are more likely to say they can adapt to changes (48% vs. 40%), complete difficult tasks (51% vs. 45%), and achieve their goals (50% vs. 45%). Working mothers also are more likely to say they actively pursue a life of higher purpose (49% vs. 37%).

Compared to all working adults, working mothers show a greater sense of purpose. However, a slightly lower percentage feel competent in completing tasks and achieving goals at work.

Ongoing challenges for working mothers

Working mothers are more likely than other employed women, as well as all adult workers, to feel their personal life suffers because of work (21% vs. 13% and 19%, respectively) and that their work suffers because of their personal life (19% vs. 8% and 15%). Working mothers are also more likely to believe they have unreasonable deadlines (21% vs. 13% and 19%) and have too much work (29% vs. 21% and 25%). Almost three in 10 view their daily activities as a chain of obligations (29% vs. 19% and 25%), and almost one in four feel forced to do many things they wouldn't choose to do (24% vs. 14% and 21%).

Opportunities for businesses to foster vitality

According to the U.S. Census, 23.5 million full-time workers are women with children under 18—about one-third of the women in the workforce.

Sustaining a supportive work environment is key to retaining the skills and talent working mothers bring to the organization. Here are some steps employers can take.

  • Agree upon realistic expectations. Leaders and managers can prevent overwork and potential burnout among caregivers by evaluating job performance criteria and making sure the tasks and timing can be reasonably achieved in a standard work schedule. Managers should also evaluate performance over time and not by day-to-day task completion.
  • Allow time for personal commitments. Employers who enable employees to fulfill their personal and family commitments while still delivering on work obligations can help ease workforce stress.
  • Invest in resources. Investing in caregiving benefits can help ease parenting concerns that can interfere with work. Offering paid sick leave, dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSAs), and stipends for childcare expenses can also help alleviate some of the financial issues many families face. Employees dealing with stress and burnout may benefit from counseling services via an employee assistance program or behavioral health care plan. In addition, ensure that your employees are aware of the resources available to them.

These suggestions are not exclusive to working mothers. In fact, implementing these best practices throughout the organization can help all employees enhance their vitality, driving better workforce health and productivity.

These findings are based on responses from 1,087 working mothers and 1,725 other employed women who were among 10,000+ U.S. adults who participated in a nationwide survey commissioned by The Cigna Group and conducted by Morning Consult, using the Evernorth Vitality Index, from May 17 to June 9, 2022.

Elderly couple happy and full of vitality

Read the report: The State of Vitality in the United States

We used the Evernorth Vitality Index to survey more than 10,000 adults across the U.S. – the largest study ever done on vitality and health.

Read the full findings