American mothers are reversing a historical trend and increasingly staying home.
The share of mothers who don’t work outside the home rose to 29 percent in 2012, up from a modern-era low of 23 percent in 1999, according to a report released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. The increase follows declines recorded most years from 1970 to 1999 as more women entered the workplace, driven both by a sense of empowerment and financial demands.
More recently the worst recession since the Great Depression kept some mothers out of the workforce as they struggled to get jobs and others found it more advantageous to stay home after weighing the cost of child care against wages.
“The majority of mothers would like to be in the workplace,” said D’Vera Cohn, lead author of the report, which used a variety of census and survey data. “There may be a ceiling to how much stay-at-home motherhood can increase.”
The sort of mothers portrayed along Wisteria Lane in the “Desperate Housewives” television series are a minority. Among stay-at-home moms with working husbands in 2012, just 22 percent had family incomes of $100,000 or more.
Those living in poverty are more common, with a third of stay-at-home mothers at that level of income, compared with 12 percent of working mothers. A growing share – 6 percent in 2012, compared with 1 percent in 2000 – say they’re at home because they can’t find a job.
The share of mothers at home with children rose from 2000 to 2004, reflecting a then-growing economy and an increasing Hispanic population that includes a stronger tradition of stay- at-home mothers. The rise stopped in 2005 before the economic uncertainty foreshadowing the recession’s official 2007 start.
In 2012, 42 percent of stay-at-home mothers were younger than 35, compared with 35 percent of working mothers. Half of stay-at-home mothers care for at least one child 5 or younger.
Pew’s stay-at-home mother category includes those who say they’re at home to care for families, as well as those who are unable to find work, are disabled or are enrolled in school.
Stay-at-home moms are more educated than decades ago, with a quarter now having college degrees, compared with 7 percent in 1970, the report said.
The data show 28 percent of children in 2012 were being raised by a stay-at-home mother, up from 24 percent in 2000. In 1970, 48 percent of children had a mother who stayed home.
Just one-in-five children today are living in a household with a married stay-at-home mother and her working husband. In 1970, 41 percent of children lived in that type of household. About 5 percent of mothers at home are cohabitating with a non- marital partner and 7 percent are married with husbands who don’t work.
Public opinion has grown more supportive of working mothers over the past four decades as the practice became more common.
When the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago first asked in 1977 whether a working mother “can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children” as a mother who stays home, only half of Americans agreed, the report said. That share generally rose until 1994, when it reached 70 percent, and has continued at that level or higher in recent years.
Stay-at-home mothers spend an average of 18 hours per week caring for children, seven more than working mothers, according to American Time Use Survey data that Pew cites in its report. They also spend nine hours more a week than working mothers on housework and have nine more hours a week of leisure time and five more hours per week to sleep, including naps.
“Financially it didn’t make sense because my paycheck was going to basically be going straight to day care,” said Shannon Puri, 34, a suburban Chicago mother of two who in 2010 left her job as a middle school special education teacher.
After trying babysitters and daycare for a year, Puri and her husband, a dentist, decided to forgo her income and have her stay home full-time.
“When I was at work I was thinking about things with my son, and when I was with him, I was catching up on things from the workday,” she said. “I couldn’t balance things well.”