Study shows more women opt for roles as stay-at-home moms

Although it may benefit their families, particularly those with small children, it appears that the increasing number of stay-at-home moms is largely due to current economic forces. According to a recent study coming out of the Pew Research Center, some 29 percent of women are now staying home, compared with the modern-era low of 23 percent in 1999. This marks a distinct reversal in a long-time trend of more working moms.

Two key factors are resulting in this reversal: One is the element of immigration (that is, recent immigrants tend to be stay-at-home moms more frequently than native-born Americans). The other factor is the downturn in economic conditions, which is driving more women out of the workforce and back into the home.

While the category “stay-at-home” moms consist of women who choose to stay at home to care for their children (the traditional definition), it also includes those who are disabled, those who are in school and those who are at home because they cannot find a job.

“Traditional” stay-at-home moms

The largest number of these stay-at-home moms are women who are married with a supporting husband in the workplace. Roughly two-thirds of the women who make up the 10.4 million group fall into this classification. Those who are single moms tend to be at home more often because they are in school or can’t find work, rather than opting to stay home to take care of their children.

The average stay-at-home mom also tends to be younger and less well educated than her working counterpart, according the Pew Research Center. In addition, these stay-at-home moms are less likely to be white (51 percent) than the working counterparts (60 percent), and more likely to be immigrants (33 percent versus 20 percent in the workforce).

Media images and stark reality

Despite the common media image of the “opt-out” mom (those highly educated and wealthy women, who choose to remain in the home), this group accounted for just 5 percent of the overall total of stay-at-home moms in 2012, a number totaling less than half a million. They also tend to be somewhat older than the traditional stay-at-home mom. These women are also disproportionately white (69 percent) or Asian (19 percent).

Economic forces on the rise

Perhaps one of the most disturbing statistics of the study found that more women who stay home are living in poverty (34 percent) than their working counterparts (12 percent). An increasing number of stay-at-home mothers have suggested that their decisions are based around poor economic conditions with less opportunities for employment. Not only are many women having difficulty finding work, but in an economic climate of stagnant wages, many are finding that the cost of child care tips the balance in favor of staying home (versus going out into or remaining in the workplace).

Perhaps because of worsening economic conditions, or even more fathers staying at home to care for their families (who were not part of this study), attitudes are changing toward stay-at-home moms, with public opinion generally being more supportive of this decision than in the past.