- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

June Cleaver was ahead of her time.

A major survey finds that a rising number of American women are now stay-at-home moms, although not always by choice.

The Pew Research Center report, released Tuesday, found that the share of stay-at-home mothers as a percentage of U.S. women with children younger than 18 had risen from a low of 23 percent in 1999 to 29 percent in 2012, reversing a trend that spanned the first half-century after World War II. The survey cited a variety of cultural, ethnic and social factors for the demographic shift, but the big one, analysts said, was money.

“Families make decisions based on their budget, and they do what they have to do,” said Margot Dorfman, chief executive officer of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Dorfman said there simply haven’t been as many jobs outside the home for working mothers as there were just a few years ago. The report found that unemployment as a reason for mothers to stay at home was up to 6 percent in 2012 from 1 percent in 2000.

“With incomes stagnant in recent years for all but the college-educated, less educated workers in particular may weigh the cost of child care against wages and decide it makes more economic sense to stay home,” according to the Pew report authors.

Still, the dramatic increase marks a turnaround from decades when at-home moms like the “Leave It to Beaver” character were seen as increasingly anachronistic.

The report said one factor since the turn of the century has been a steady “public ambivalence” about working mothers.

Economic reasons can be found in the Great Recession. The share of mothers remaining in the home grew from 2000 to 2004 but stopped in 2005 as the economy picked up speed. But the increase resumed after 2008, when stay-at-home mothers represented 26 percent of all women with children.

Whether the trend is welcome or not is a matter of debate. A Pew survey last year found that most mothers, given a choice, would prefer to work either full or part time.

“We want an economy where men or women who want to work can work, but it’s a mistake to think everyone wants to work full time,” said Christina Hoff Sommers, American Enterprise Institute resident scholar and author of “Who Stole Feminism?”

Economic divide

The report found that the “most striking demographic difference” between stay-at-home mothers and mothers who work was the level of “economic well-being.” Poverty is a reality for nearly a third of stay-at-home mothers but affects only 12 percent of working mothers.

“It’s very hard for a woman with children to make it on her own. You can do it, but it’s a terrible struggle,” Ms. Sommers said.

With marriage rates declining, the social template of the working husband and a doting wife with children at home has decreased.

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