Stay-at-Home Moms: A Rising Trend, Fueled by Immigration and Weak Economy

Elizabeth Barber, Christian Science Monitor, April 9, 2014

The percentage of moms who are staying home with their children has increased since the millennium, a trend that likely is driven by both an influx of immigrant mothers and the pressures of a still hard-up economy in which many women cannot get jobs, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

The share of moms who do not work outside their homes reached 29 percent in 2012, up from a historic low of 23 percent in 1999, according to a Pew analysis of US government survey data.

The rise in the percentage of mothers who are at home full-time reverses a decades long decline in the share of stay-at-home moms. In 1967, about 49 percent of mothers stayed at home, and that percentage continued to trim over the next 30 years. Only in 2000 did the share of mothers staying home begin to go up, and it has done so almost continuously since then.

What’s behind the trend is still up for debate, but chief among the possible reasons are the country’s ongoing economic woes, making staying home less a conscious choice for some women than a response to a tight job market, the report found.

Six percent of stay-at-home moms, or about 634,000 people, reported that they were at home in 2012 because they were unable to find a job. That’s an increase from 2000, when just 1 percent of stay-at-home moms said that unemployment was their main reason for staying home, according to Pew.

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The report also suggested that shifting demographics might account for a greater percentage of mothers staying home. About a third of stay-at-home mothers were born outside the US, Pew found. That large share is despite the fact that immigrants account for just 13 percent of Americans, according to the 2010 US census.

About 40 percent of foreign-born mothers are stay-at-home moms, versus just a quarter of mothers who were born in the US, the report found.

The report also highlighted a number of demographic changes among mothers who do not work outside the home, including a rise in the share of stay-at-home moms who are single.

About 20 percent of stay-at-home moms were single in 2012, versus 8 percent in 1970, the report found. While a majority, or about 68 percent, of stay-at-home mothers are still women who are married to employed partners, that’s a decline from 1970, when about 85 percent of stay-at-home moms were married to partners with jobs, Pew reported.

Stay-at-home moms are also more educated as a group than in years past. About a quarter of the nation’s 10.4 million stay-at-home mothers had college degrees in 2012, compared with just 7 percent of them in 1970. Plus, just 19 percent of those mothers had less than a high school diploma in 2012, versus about 35 percent in 1970.

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