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The Move Back to Stay-At-Home Motherhood

After decades of decreasing numbers, the proportion of mothers choosing to stay at home is on the rise again.

It was back in 1963 when Betty Frieden penned her groundbreaking book “The Feminine Mystique” and asked the age old question that women have been asking for years; Is this all there is?

It was only a few years after her book was published that the Census Bureau started gathering data on the number of mothers who opted to stay home, raise their children and take care of their family rather than head out into the workforce. In the intervening decades the answer to Frieden’s question was, without a doubt, “no”.

49% of mothers in 1967 were stay-at-home moms but, by 2000, that number had dropped to 23% and most experts believe that it would continue to fall. The opposite has proven true however as, in the last 14 years, the amount of mothers who’ve chosen to stay at home has steadily risen, according to The Kew Research Center’s newly released data.

One of the major reasons for this changing demographic has been the increase in immigrants in the United States, who are more likely to stay at home and raise their children than American-born women. Another factor occurred towards the end of the 1990s when there were so many jobs being created that finding work was much easier. Today that’s changed of course as jobs have gotten more scarce.

Choice is another factor, and 25% of stay-at-home mothers actually have college degrees but choose not to use them.

Stay-at-home mothers come from both ends of the social scale and everywhere in between. From highly educated women whose husbands or partners afford them the lifestyle and opportunity to stay home with the kids, to those who, because of the fact that minimum-wage jobs pay so little, choose to instead stay home with their children rather than waste time flipping burgers.

The Pew data estimates that the first group is relatively small at just under 400,000 women or about 5% of stay-at-home mothers. Approximately 35% of stay-at-home mothers are either single or cohabitating with another adult and, on average, they are the most poor.

Interestingly, the increase of stay at home moms is squarely at odds with another trend in the last 2 to 3 decades, that of women having much more success in the job market.

Indeed, nearly 50% of all jobs in the United States are now held by women, up from approximately 32% in 1963. Even more, for every 2.6 jobs lost by men during the recession, women lost only one job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Even more, nearly 60% of all bachelor’s degrees are now being earned by women, giving them superiority at the skilled end of the jobs market.

Some may ask how women can be simultaneously increasing their presence in the workplace while at the same time increasingly opting out of it as well. The answer to this question is that, at the same time that women have been leaving the labor force, men have been leaving it even faster. In fact, in almost 40% of households in the United States where children reside, the primary breadwinner is now a female. (These numbers are slightly skewed as, in 26% of the cases, the woman is a single parent.)

One area where women still lag behind men however  is in earning power. Back in April Pres. Obama said that “the average full-time working woman earns just $.77 for every dollar a man,” adding that “that’s an embarrassment. It is wrong.”

Unfortunately that’s like comparing apples to oranges, as any employer would gladly line up to pay $.77 on the dollar to hire a woman (or anyone else for that matter). Frankly, it’s not as easy to determine exactly how much women make in comparison to men but, politicians being politicians, Pres. Obama needed a “sound-bite” to get some political attention.

The fact is, while “full-time” working men do make more money than women, it’s in part because they work longer hours and in better paid professions. Men also work in fields that are more dangerous, shown by the fact that 92% of work-related deaths are men as opposed to women. Then of course there’s the fact that, when a child arrives, a man is far less likely to take a “career break” than a woman is.

If you compare a single, childless woman to a single, childless man, the woman actually earns about $.95 for every dollar that the man makes, but of course that’s hardly something that would look good on a campaign poster.

Whatever the case may be as far as earning potential is concerned, the fact is that more women are now staying at home with their children than in the last 15 years. Whatever the reason, hopefully it’s a portent of good things to come for their fortunate children.

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