More moms stay at home, new research says

More mothers have been staying home with their children since the recession ended, but a growing number of them say that’s primarily because they can’t find a job, according to a new study.

Almost three in 10 mothers with children under 18 living with them are stay-at-home moms, an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Research Center showed. That is a 3 percentage point jump from the depth of the recession in 2008.

The Pew study released Tuesday examined the demographic and economic factors driving the rise in stay-at-home moms, a phenomenon that sociologists are still attempting to understand.

After decades of decline, the share of mothers with children in the house began growing around 2000. Around the same time, the percentage of married mothers who hold jobs began to decline.

The shift is most noticeable among women who are immigrants and who do not have college educations.

Though both American-born and foreign-born mothers exhibited increases, 40 percent of immigrant mothers stay home to raise their children, compared with 26 percent of mothers who were born in the United States.

Similarly, though all racial and ethnic groups saw increases, Hispanic and Asian mothers were more likely to stay home with their children — more than one out of three, compared with barely one out of four white and black mothers. Pew’s analysis showed that 86 percent of all Asian mothers were born in another country, as were 60 percent of Hispanic mothers. In contrast, only 13 percent of black mothers and 6 percent of white mothers were foreign-born.

The rise in the share of stay-at-home mothers, however, stalled in the middle of the last decade, continuing through the Great Recession. Since 2010, though, it has picked up again, Pew said.

That suggests that economics and wage stagnation are playing more of a role now.

“When women were asked why they stayed home rather than work, most said it was to take care of their children,” said D’Vera Cohn, the Pew report’s author. “But we saw an uptick in mothers saying it was for economic reasons.”

In 2000, 1 percent of stay-at-home mothers said they were home because they couldn’t find a job. In 2012, that share had leaped to 6 percent.

That suggests that the latest rise may be temporary, and eventually will reverse when wages rise for lower-income workers. That changes the calculation of when it makes sense to pay for child care while a mother works, Cohn noted.

But it will take time to fully understand why the patterns of whether mothers choose to work have switched course.

“There surely is a slowdown in the meteoric growth of women working outside the home,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University who studies family issues. “From 1948 to 2000, the number of married women working skyrocketed. Now it’s plateaued, and it’s very hard to know exactly what’s causing it.”

Despite the recent shift, 20 percent of all married mothers with children under 18 stay home — half what it was in 1970, according to Pew. One in five children in the United States today lives with a stay-at-home mother married to a working husband. In 1970, 41 percent of children did.

Carol Morello writes about demographics and the census, as well as a lot of other stuff that comes down the pike. She has worked at the Washington Post since 2000.
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