Stay-at-home motherhood is a highly examined aspect of modern life with a Babylon-level of voices and opinions. Lisa weighed in last summer with her writing, Nine Reasons I Regret Being a Stay at Home Mom, Grown and Flown’s most widely read and debated post to date. When Pew released research this week entitled, After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers, we thought it was time to take another look at the facts and stereotypes that surround mothers who do not work outside the home. Regardless of one’s opinion on the “optimal way” for parents to raise their children and provide for them financially, having a grasp on the facts should be the shared starting point.
While Pew’s research showed a marked increase in the number of SAHMs, the causes of this increase were manifold: lack of childcare, declining employment opportunities for those without a university degree and a drop in women’s participation in the labor force.
Pew’s new research showed that the number of stay-at-home moms has increased substantially:
The share of mothers who do not work outside the home rose to 29% in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23% in 1999….This rise over the past dozen years represents the reversal of a long-term decline in “stay-at-home” mothers that had persisted for the last three decades of the 20th century.
But perhaps one of the most important facts that the Pew reports highlights is our misguided idea of who are SAHMs. While our vision from the popular media is dominated by affluent, highly educated woman staying home because her family can comfortably afford to live on a single income, the reality is something very different. Those families in which the mother has a graduate degree and the family income exceeds $75,000 accounted for a mere 5% of all stay at home moms. In sharp contrast,
One of the most striking demographic differences between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers relates to their economic well-being. Fully a third (34%) of stay-at-home mothers are living in poverty, compared with 12% of working mothers.
Married SAHM overwhelmingly state caring for their families as their reason for staying home (85% said this in 2012). But single or cohabiting stay-at-home mothers “are more likely than married stay-at-home mothers to say they are ill or disabled, unable to find a job, or enrolled in school.”
As a nation we continue to be ambivalent about the role of working mothers. While support for moms working outside the home had risen sharply, from 49 % of Americans saying that a working mother “can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children” as a mother who stays home in 1977 to 70% agreeing with that sentiment today. At the same time, 60% of Pew respondents felt that, “children are better off when a parent stays home to focus on the family” While working moms are very much a part of 21st century life, the public’s mixed views may not have caught up with that reality.
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