“Stay-at-home mother” evokes black and white images of well-coiffed women in starched aprons. Rather than a vestige of a bygone era, stay-at-home moms are on the rise, according to the findings of a new Pew Research study. In 2012, 29% of women with children under the age of 18 stayed home, a number that has been on the rise since 1999 and is 3% higher than in 2008.
However, while more women are staying home with their children, the face of the stay-at-home mom has changed dramatically since the 1950s “Leave It to Beaver” days. Stay-at-home moms today are less educated and more likely to live in poverty than working moms. Younger mothers and immigrant mothers also make up a good portion of stay-at-home moms.
The story of why mothers are staying home is more complex than you may imagine and has more to do with the poor labor market, the exorbitant price of child care, and the contemporary structure of work. In a recent interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Barbara Risman, a sociologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, spoke about how this report has been picked up by the mainstream media:
What’s surprising to me is the headlines and how it’s portrayed in the news. Although the numbers are going up, when you look at what mothers say, 6% of the mothers in this study say they are home because they can’t find a job. When you take those 6% of mothers out, the results are rather flat. Part of the real story here then is that it’s hard to find a job that allows you to work and covers your child care, particularly if you have less education and your earning potential isn’t very high.
These days stay-at-home moms, who are more likely to be less educated, are not able to make enough money for working to even be worthwhile. Many times, their pay wouldn’t actually cover the cost of child care. Beyond these important financial considerations, lower wage shift work makes it extremely difficult to coordinate child care in the midst of work schedules that change on a weekly basis.
Erin Hoekstra is pursuing a PhD in Sociology at the University of Minnesota. This post originally appeared on Citings and Sightings and you can read all of Erin’s contributions to The Society Pages here. Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.
Bill R — May 22, 2014
"These days stay-at-home moms, who are more likely to be less educated..."
What does this mean?
Mothers who raise their children on a full-time basis (I prefer this description) have less education than those who raised their children on a full-time basis in the '40s-'60s?
Mothers who raise their children on a full-time basis today have less education than mothers who work in an environment today where they can't be with their children?
Today's mothers who raise their children on a full-time basis have less education than any other set of women in recent history?
A sociology professor — May 22, 2014
Education is no guarantee of high enough pay. I'm an adjunct professor who stayed at home when my children were young because my salary was not enough to pay for childcare.
kali — May 23, 2014
Yeah, my husband stays home, because he has never held a job that paid enough to cover childcare. My job could but we couldn't pay rent as well, so it's good he can take care of our youngest.
Yrro Simyarin — May 23, 2014
Raises the question - what makes the cost of childcare so high?
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