In 1999, the percentage of women who were stay-at-home mothers had reached an all time low of 23 percent. Fast forward almost a decade-and-a-half later and that trend is beginning to reverse itself. The Pew Research Center, a fact tank that focusses reporting information on issues and trends that are shaping the U.S and the world, released their analysis of government data on Tuesday, which concluded that the trend for women at home has shifted, as the percentage of stay-at-home moms rose to 29 percent in 2012.
The reversal of what had been a steady reduction in stay-at-home moms was largely influenced by a combination of demographics, economics, and other factors within society. In 1967 stay at home mothers made up nearly 50 percent of women who had families. From the late 60’s onward, the numbers of mothers at home dropped dramatically through 1999. The last 30 years of the 20th century was a period marked by a greater sense of empowerment, with more women becoming educated and seeking positions in a work force that had been previously dominated by men; but also by economic changes that made it more difficult for families to live off of one income alone.
Far from being anything like the lives of comfort led by the housewives on the reality TV shows or sitcoms, the sudden change in the trend was reported to be the result of economic challenges that arose out of the Great Recession of 2007, which left many women and men jobless. The PRC found that in 2012, six percent of women who were surveyed stated that they were at home because they could not find jobs. That is a five percent increase from 2000, when only one percent of stay-at-home mothers responded with that answer.
The weak economy has taken it’s toll on family incomes. D’Vera Cohn, the lead author of the PRC report, stated that most women would prefer to be in the workplace in order help alleviate the financial demands of having a family. Among the mothers who stay at home, only 22 percent had family incomes that were greater than $100,000 while a third of them were considered to be living at or below the poverty line.
Adding to the economic difficulty is the fact that, not unlike their 20th century counterparts, 51 percent of stay-at-home mothers have not completed high school which makes getting a job all the more difficult. The number of women who stay at home and also have college educations, however, has risen to about a quarter, with 5 percent having a masters level education.
Data from the report showed that for some women staying at home may not be a choice, but for a small minority it is. The minority of women who are highly educated and have a family income higher than $75,000 is limited to about 370,000 across the United States. Demographically, these women who have chosen to opt-out of the workforce are stated by the PRC report to be disproportionately White or Asian.
The PRC’s data which notes the shifting trend for stay-at-home mothers, includes mothers who stay at home because they have chosen to care for their families, but does not include data on women who work from home. According to an article written on Parenting.com, the advancement of technology and the growing number of businesses who offer more flexibility to women with families has made it easier for women to both earn a living and care for her family. The “new” stay-at-home mom does not necessarily have to chose between work and her family as she did before.
Although certainly not as common as mothers who stay at home because they are unemployed, the mother who works from home could come from a broad spectrum of women. From CEO of her own at-home business to online writer, the number of women who want to be more available to their children’s needs, as opposed to working outside the home full-time, has increased from 38 percent to 48 percent since 1997.
As mentioned above, this trend is slowly growing among a minority of women who have the convenience and family stability to have the choice to stay at home. However, according to Susan Shapiro Barash, who is an expert in Women’s Studies, the women of the millennial generation are taking after their grandmothers more than they are after their baby-boomer mothers. This younger generation of women watched the struggles and sacrifices that their mothers had to make and if given the choice, would rather be at home for their children.
The public opinion regarding mothers who work outside the home has generally grown more accepting, but in a recent survey from the PRC, about 60 percent of respondent still believe that children are better off when at least one parent stays at home. Even though the trends are shifting for both stay-at-home mothers who can not find work, and those who stay at home because they believe it is bets for their children, the consensus on which is healthier for children was not mentioned in the PRC’s analysis.
By Natalia Sanchez