The Rise of Stay-at-Home Moms Is More Complex than You Think

Last week the Pew Research Group reported that the number of stay-at-home mothers is increasing in the United States, rising from 23 percent in 1999 to 29 percent in 2012. When we hear “stay-at-home mom” some of us automatically envision a materialistic, needy women of elite status. We may say to ourselves, “that must be nice” or “us normal folk can’t afford to not work.” Oh how wrong we are.

Once you get past the stereotypes and stigma, there really are logical reasons for the increase. Not all stay-at-home mothers are married to a rich husband or are unmotivated and lazy when it comes to entering the workforce. Some women choose to stay at home because it’s a solution that makes more sense and is easier to handle than some of the roadblocks allowing them to enter the workforce. (These women also often prefer to be called “mothers who don’t work outside the home,” because, of course, being the primary parent and housekeeper is a lot of work.)

There are those who judge stay-at-home mothers (positively and negatively) as wanting to fulfill traditional gender roles. However, many women find that the rising cost of childcare is barely less than, or equal to, their take-home earnings, making the decision an easy one for some. Should they stay at home and raise the children or spend time away from the home and family—still spending most of their income for someone else to raise the children? This issue is not only related to unequal pay for men and women, but also due to unemployment caused by lack of education or opportunity. The Pew study found that 49 percent of stay-at-home mothers have only a high school diploma or less. Also notable is the rise in the number of these women (6 percent in 2012, compared with 1 percent in 2000) who want to work outside the home but are having trouble finding jobs.

Another factor in deciding to be a stay-at-home mother is time management. According to Pew, women tend to spend more time on average caring for the family and on housework than their male partners. Although the numbers have approached a more equal balance between women and men over the past 50 years, many women still find it difficult to balance responsibilities and still take on the more domestic roles as their male counterparts tend to bring home higher incomes.

Just as this presents a solution for many, there is a downside. While this decision may be more beneficial for some families, researches have shown that stay-at-home parents are more likely to experience depression and anger than their working partners. According to an article in Education News, Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the Council for Contemporary Families, reports “no matter the income level, mothers who stay home are inclined to more depression, sadness, and anger than their working counterparts.” Coontz also reveals that divorce rates tend to decrease for couples who are both active in the workforce.

Being a stay-at-home mom, or dad for that matter, should not be looked down upon as a profession. Although some women make this choice purely by preference, the increase is attributed to necessity in many cases. The social implications of the rising numbers should be examined rather than disregarded.

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