In 2012, the number of stay-at-home mothers rose to 29%, a 6 percentage point increase over 1999's total of 23%.
The number is still a distant cry from the 49% of mothers who did not work outside the home in 1967, however The last three decades, according to D'vera Cohn, Gretchen Livingston, and Wendy Wang writing for pewsocialtrends.org, has seen increasingly more mothers taking jobs outside of the home.
The question is why have the numbers risen slightly in the past dozen years? It appears that increased immigration, inability to find jobs, the cost of child care, illness, disability, and attending high school or college are the major reasons for the increase.
Included in this latest study are the following data concerning stay-at-home moms:
- 4 in 10 are younger than 35
- one-half care for at least one child 5 or younger
- 49% have a high school diploma or less
- less are likely to be white
- more are likely to be immigrants
- 34% are living in poverty
- single or cohabiting, non-working mothers are more likely to be foreign born
- non-working mothers with a husband fell to 20%
- 20% of single stay-at-home moms are single
- in 2012, 25% had college degrees
A General Social Survey found that 60% of those polled believe that children with a mother at home were better off than those who had a working mother.
That picture of stay-at-home motherhood may be at odds with a stereotype many Americans have of wealthier, more educated mothers who choose to stay home with their children because they can afford not to work.
While that's still true of some moms, researchers also argue that many women who stay at home are doing so at least partly because they can't afford the child care costs and other expenses associated with going to work, especially if they can't get a job that pays well.
There are also the moms who have master's degrees and whose husbands have good jobs making a $75,000 income. This category is just a fraction of the overall number of moms who stay home, however.
Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University, said it was possible that the children of immigrant mothers who did not work outside the home would choose to become working mothers themselves, aligning themselves with those whose families have been in the United States longer. "We could be seeing a temporary boost in stay-at-home mothers that reflects the high immigration we see today," he said.
According to Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the Council for Contemporary Families, reporting for The New York Times Sunday Review, no matter the income level, mothers who stay home are inclined to more depression, sadness, and anger than their working counterparts.
She also shares that women who begin working after the birth of their first child were healthier at the age of 40 than their contemporaries who had not had a paying job. Although decades ago a wife who took a job outside of the home was in danger of precipitating a divorce, today the divorce rate goes down for husbands and wives who both work outside the home.