The Great ‘Lean Out’?

Anna Williams
Posted

stay at homeFor the first time in decades, the number of stay-at-home moms in the U.S. is back on the rise.

The share of mothers outside the workforce jumped to 29% in 2012—that’s up from a historic low of 23% in 1999, according to the latest Pew Research Center report.

That might seem surprising—we tend to assume that more women are working than ever, and buzzy books like “Lean In” have kept working mothers in the national conversation.

But the decline is unlikely to be a grand cultural shift. In fact, it’s a combination of simple economics and changing demographics, the report explained.

For one, the number of moms who opted to stay home because they couldn’t find outside employment made a large jump—from just 1% in 2000 to 6% in 2012. At the same time, the report found that while only 12% of working mothers live in poverty, as much as a third of stay-at-home moms do.

RELATED: Confessions of an Anti-Sheryl Sandberg: Why I Don’t Believe in ‘Leaning In’

Increased immigration and demographic change also seem to plays a role. A third of stay-at-home moms were not born in the U.S., and Asian and Latino families—some of the fastest growing groups—were found to be more likely to include stay-at-home mothers.

But that might only be temporary. As Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University, told the New York Times, it’s likely that the children of immigrant mothers might eventually choose to work outside the home, following in the footsteps of the majority of American families. “We could be seeing a temporary boost in stay-at-home mothers that reflects the high immigration we see today,” he said.

One notable long-term shift over the decades has been the education level of stay-at-home moms. In 2012, 25% of stay-at-home moms were college graduates, compared with just 7% in 1970.

And while most stay-at-home moms are generally younger and less educated than working moms, 5% of stay-at-home mothers with working husbands have at least a masters degrees and a family income of more than $75,000. This demographic is sometimes known as the “opt-out” mom because it’s believed they choose not to work, although some researchers believe it’s likely that many have been pushed out because of the pressures of juggling a career and a family.