In the good news/bad news department, fewer American mothers are working outside the home — but many are doing so not by their own choosing. The Pew Research Center released new data today that includes moms who choose to stay at home, are unable to find work, are disabled, or are attending school.
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, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. 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. The recent turnaround appears to be driven by a mix of demographic, economic and societal factors, including rising immigration as well as a downturn in women’s labor force participation, and is set against a backdrop of continued public ambivalence about the impact of working mothers on young children.
There are many interesting pieces of data, including what turns out is the small number of SAHMs who are the so-called well-heeled “opt-out” mothers that get a lot of press these days. But the other striking information from this report is the answer to what is best for children – and, I think, the fact that so few did not choose a definitive answer to the question.
A clear majority feel that it’s best for a parent to stay at home to care for children. But of course, it’s a basic question. One can understand if there is also lingering ambivalence. I personally have found staying home more rewarding and strongly encourage young women to choose it. But I also know several moms who work outside the home for various reasons, and I see their kids thriving. Could some of them afford to stay home and perhaps discover that their children (and they themselves) would fare even better? It’s easy for me to say yes. On the flip side, it’s hard to convince some women that the stereotypes of the happy homemaker being less intelligent and less successful than the career woman are unfair.
As far as this report is concerned, of course it is troubling that fewer women are able to find work, but perhaps we can find comfort in knowing that there are benefits to having moms in the home full-time that money can’t buy.
See Maggie Gallagher’s more thorough take on this study for NRO here.
On a similar note — here’s a piece on the the importance of help from extended family for all moms.