Friday, October 9, 2009

Stay at home moms

by Beth Zak-Cohen

Growing up in a city, the phrase “stay-at-home mom” brings to my mind suburbs , white picket fences, soccer practices, and cupcakes. That’s why I was surprised to see a new study by the Pew Research Center. Stay-at-home moms today, it concludes, are more likely to be younger, poorer, Hispanic, and foreign born. More likely simply means that more stay at home moms fit this description now than ever before. Another interesting fact from the article is that 12.3% of moms who stay at home were below poverty level, compared to 5.1% of their counterparts. This begs the question: why are these mothers staying at home, when they could be working and, possibly, bringing their family above the poverty line? I think one major reason is probably lack of childcare. Many areas, especially rural ones, do not provide public daycare or nursery care and babysitters are expensive. Kids cannot be left alone, so what’s the alternative?

I don’t want to assume that these stay at home moms aren’t there by choice. But, according to the study, only 3 out of 10 say family responsibilities are the reason they don’t work so what’s the explanation for the other 7 of 10?

46% of stay at home moms had not attended college. Maybe this contributes to mothers staying at home. With the economy how it is right now, college degrees are becoming more important in finding a job with decent benefits and hours. When given the choice between a minimum wage job with long hours and spending time with my kids, I know which I’d choose. With the 34% of stay at home moms being Hispanic or foreign born it’s also possible that either immigration status or racial prejudice keep these below-poverty line mothers out of the workforce.

The New York Times quotes a NYU professor who offers an alternative from the theory that sprang to my mind. Stay at home moms, he claims, are younger, so they’re probably still attending school. This would make them non-working, although they’d presumably be above the poverty line, as they can afford college.

In some ways this study can be seen as positive for feminists. Upper income moms are more likely to work and lower income moms more likely to stay home, than ever before. This suggests that neither income nor societal expectations are affecting women’s decisions about how to raise their children. But should that be a personal choice? If that personal choice affects your ability to feed or clothe (or for upper class working moms, to see and really be a part of the life of) your children, maybe you should have second thoughts.

The demographic of the stay at home mother is changing in a a way that those 1950s sitcoms could never have imagined. It certainly shows that are society is changing, becoming one where women have more choices than ever before. However, by providing childcare and jobs to these women, we could make sure they all have real choice as to how to spend their days and how to raise their children.


At November 3, 2009 at 3:50 PM , Blogger schoen.maryann said...

When did that phrase "stay-at-home mom" begin? Personally, I don't care for that phrase. It makes me feel as though a mother is jailed to her house. My mother was a house wife and a mother--a very busy job keeping things and situations in order at home--a lot of work. Why can't they use a better phrase than this current one that just annoys me?


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