The latest numbers suggest that stay-at-home motherhood is making a comeback. The Pew Research Center‘s latest analysis shows that women who don’t work outside home jumped from 23% in 1999 to 29% in 2012 after three decades of decline. That means that 10.4 million more women are staying at home.

It’s important to note that Pew largely attributed the rise of stay-at-home mothers to the economy. The small share of women who said that they were staying at home because they were unable to find work grew from 1% to 6% between 2000 and 2012. There was an increase in stay-at-home moms who were immigrant women in addition to women who were disabled and unable to work. Pew also noted that, “With incomes stagnant in recent years for all but the college-educated, less educated workers in particular may weigh the cost of child care against wages and decide it makes more economic sense to stay home.” In other words, for many families it’s cheaper to have a parent stay at home–forgoing the costs of childcare–than have a job. But it’s important to remember: a full 34% of stay-at-home mothers live in poverty. Many of these women are making huge sacrifices to stay at home with their families.

As for the high-powered career woman who chose to “opt out?” They only make up 5% of stay-at-home moms. Indeed, the Mommy Wars have been largely media hype.

But there are social trends at work here too. The strong majority of stay-at-home mothers–85%–say that they are doing so by choice in order to care for their families. (Unfortunately, when zeroing on specific subgroups, the rate is much lower for single moms (41%) and cohabitating mothers (64%.))

There are two important sociological trends at play here: (1) Third-wave feminist appreciation for stay-at-home moms, and (2) re-prioritizing of children.

Second-wave feminism has long been criticized for its opposition to women who chose to stay at home. As Elisabeth Badinter says,  “To be just a mother is not to be a fully-realized woman.” Thankfully, third-wave feminists argue that the only person who can prescribe what a “fully-realized woman” is is the individual herself. Fulfilled at work? Great. Fulfilled at home? That’s awesome too!

I’ve written before on how media is moving beyond 90s feminism, and I think more and more mothers are catching on. Fully-stay-at-home moms have faced a constant battle with people asking what they do all day and guilt for not contributing financially to the family. It is frequently treated as the “wrong choice–” as “opting out” of their “responsibilities” to add to the workforce. But second-wave feminists are to blame for creating this mythical personal responsibility. The reality is, these women are choosing to stay-at-home (and that takes serious balls) in a hostile environment for their lifestyle and career choice. No one has a right to look down on them for that.

In spite of the stigma, Americans tend to be more appreciative of women in the home. Pew reports, “Despite the fact that most mothers in the U.S. work at least part time, 60% of Americans say children are better off when a parent stays home to focus on the family.” And luckily for these moms, they tend to be happier than those who are working. Looks like they made the right choice for themselves (but alas, who am I to judge?).

  • somegal

    just something to keep in mind – immigrant spouses who do not yet have a green card, are not allowed to work by US law. so if you’re on a H4 visa, ie., spouse of an H1-B holder, you cannot work legally. green cards typically take years for processing.

    • I think the Pew study would document these people (should they have been surveyed) as those who did not choose to be a stay-at-home mom.

  • Gay_for_Jesus

    I like how you just concluded that feminism did it with no actual quantifiable evidence to suggest it. More sound libertarian reasoning!