Hard Choice for Moms: Work or Stay Home?
You've got a new baby and a mortgage to pay for, so should you go back to work or stay home to raise Junior? In a change in trend, more women are considering the stay-at-home option.
Mothers with the financial means have long had the choice to go back to work
or stay home after the birth of their children. Today, however, more moms in
all economic levels appear to be considering the stay home option - at least
that's what some experts suspect when they point to recent population surveys,
which show all female employment numbers declining after decades of sustained
"The employment decline is apparent among all income groups, roughly
equally," says Philip Cohen, PhD, associate professor of sociology at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Employment figures for married mothers with children under age 6 have
dropped 7% to 10% since the peak years of 1997 to 2000, depending on the income
group, says Cohen. Overall, the work participation rate for all women dropped
1.5% from 2000 to 2004, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This is significant because, for four decades, women's labor participation
rates consistently climbed, from 40.8% in 1970 to 57.5% in 2000. The phenomenon
caused profound changes in American family, culture, and economy. The shift in
direction has some people wondering whether or not the sexual revolution at
work is over and what may have caused the change.
The 'Stay-at-Home' Buzz
In a 2005 study, the U.S. Census Bureau reported an estimated 5.6 million
stay-at-home moms. That is a 22% increase from 1994.
"It used to be more popular and widely accepted for moms to work,"
says Cara Gardenswartz, PhD, a clinical psychologist in independent practice in
Beverly Hills, Calif. "There's been a backlash, because right now, there's
actually more status to not be a working mom."
Melissa Milkie, PhD, associate professor of sociology at the University of
Maryland, College Park, believes that many factors such as family demands,
number of kids, age of the youngest child, and time constraints prevent many of
today's mothers from entering or staying in the workforce even if they want to
remain on the job.
On the other hand, Sylvia Allegretto, an economist for the Economic Policy
Institute, says the recent dip in women's employment has more to do with the
country's prolonged recovery from recession than with a change in women's work
patterns. She points out that labor participation rates have decreased for men
Men's employment rates have declined 2.7% from 2000-2004, according to U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Allegretto may have a point about the recession, says Cohen, but he's still
not ruling out the possibility that women's work patterns have changed.
"There's never been a sustained decline in mothers' employment until the
last 5 years," he says, noting that women's employment rates have survived
other recessions. "It may be a testament to this recession, or a testament
to the squeeze on women to stay home."