After 30 years of decline, the number of moms staying home with their children rose in the past decade, according to a report released last week by the Pew Research Center.
The report found 29 percent of mothers stayed at home in 2012, compared to 23 percent in 1999. The increase follows a steady decline from 1970, when nearly half of mothers were stay-at-home moms.
The report’s authors cited a weak economy and stagnant wages as a likely influence on mothers’ decisions not to work outside the home. “The recent rise in stay-at-home motherhood is the flipside of a dip in female labor force participation after decades of growth,” the report stated. It also pointed to rising childcare costs and increasing immigration, with foreign-born mothers more likely to stay home full-time than U.S.-born mothers.
Some observers argued the increase is evidence of a shift in mothers’ desires.
“Over the last generation, there has been surprising stability in women’s gendered preferences for motherhood over work,” wrote Maggie Gallagher, a fellow at the American Principles Project, in National Review Online.
She cited another Pew survey from last year that found the majority of women would like to work less. In 2012, only 32 percent of women said full-time work was their “ideal” situation, with the rest saying they preferred part-time work or no work. Forty-six percent of women who worked full-time said their current situation is “not ideal.”
“The vast majority of married mothers don’t want to work full-time,” said Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, in The Atlantic. “The news cycle is stuck in a lean-in loop, but new data shows mothers report more happiness when they can lean homeward.”
According to the report released last week, roughly two-thirds of stay-at-home moms are married with a working husband. The remaining third include women who are single, co-habitating, or married to a man who does not work or is absent. The study’s definition of “stay-at-home moms” is broad, including those who choose not to work, as well as those who are unable to work because of difficulty finding a job, a disability, sickness, or school attendance. While single moms were more likely to say they could not work, most married moms said they decided to stay home.
The report also said 60 percent of Americans continue to think having a parent at home is the best situation for a child.
Gallagher said more women would stay home if they could: “After decades of decline, the increase in stay-at home mothers signals once again a big gap between the aspirations of women and the plans laid out for us by the gender theorists in Washington.”