For the first time in decades, more moms are choosing to stay home with their kids over going to work, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. This latest research shows the share of stay at home moms rose to 29 percent in 2012, up from 23 percent in 1999, when the numbers reached their lowest point. The eyebrow-raising side note? A whopping 34 percent are living in poverty.
For years we’ve been fed this notion that stay-at-home moms are well-to-do women in designer sweats (see the New York Times Magazine’s piece “The Opt-Out Revolution” and just about every family sitcom on television). It turns out that may not be the case at all, and that should be a concern to all of us.
Why? For starters, research from the Ponemon Institute shows women are more productive than men at work. They work harder and longer, and they are less likely to be distracted. So the fewer women you have working for you, the less likely it is that your company is fulfilling its maximum potential for production. But in order to hire more women, you’re going to need to entice them.
Most of the women polled by Pew say they’d like nothing more than to work, but the high cost of childcare and the lack of career opportunities that pay enough to make that worthwhile are keeping them home. In 31 states, it’s cheaper to send your child to college than to pay for childcare while you work full time. It’s a simple case of addition and subtraction; for many families it just doesn’t make economic sense for moms to work when they have to give up as much or more of their salary for childcare.
With fewer women in the workforce, our society stands less of a chance of improving the inadequate family leave policies we’ve come to consider acceptable. The United States ranks among the lowest and least generous when it comes to family leave, right next to a handful of countries that have no policy at all. We are the only first-world country with no guaranteed paid leave, and 1 of only 4 in the world where workers don’t have the right to any (a whopping 163 countries do).
The longer society thinks that moms who stay home with their kids are doing just fine, the less likely we’ll ever see the sort of policy changes that can truly create more family-friendly workplaces, impact the rising cost of childcare, and address the pay inequality that exists.
When faced with hard truths like these, it’s no wonder more women are opting to stay home, even if that means living in or near poverty.
What do you think of the rise in the number of stay-at-home moms, many of whom want to work but don’t find it worthwhile?