More moms are staying home but not necessarily because they want to

stay at home mom chart over time

After decades of declining, the proportion of stay-at-home-moms has risen from a low a of 23 percent in 1999 to 29 percent of all mothers in 2012. Let the mommy wars commence!

JK. In fact, while many a trend piece would have you believe that all SAHMs are affluent, educated women who are choosing to stay home to care for the kids while their husbands work because feminism is a failure, the new analysis from Pew Research shows that’s decidedly not the case. While two thirds of SAHM do have a working husband, that may not be true for long. Twenty percent are now single, compared to just 8 percent in 1970. Very few are wealthy or highly educated. They are younger, less likely to be white, and more likely to be immigrants. A third of SAHMs live in poverty, compared just 12 percent of working mothers. Six percent say they are at home simply because they can’t find a job, which is up from 1 percent in 2000.

And even among the rest who are “choosing” to stay home to care for their families, the evidence suggests their options are pretty constrained. Pew identifies the ridiculously high cost of child care as one major driving factor. Average weekly child care expenses have increased more than 70 percent since 1985 to $148 in 2011. Meanwhile, last year we spent less on child care assistance than at any time since 2002. If you’re unable to get a job that pays well enough to offset the cost of child care, then it makes total sense to stay home. But that sure as hell isn’t much of a choice in any meaningful sense of the word. Indeed, most parents, of both genders, say they’d ideally want to work at least part-time.

In my feminist utopia, everyone would be able to stay home if they want and work if they want. Hopefully this research will help put an end to the endless debate about “opting out” and start a meaningful conversation about the policy changes needed to give all families real options. With work-family balance in this country what it is (non-existent), it’s debatable if even the few uber-privileged SAHMs are making a totally free choice to stay home. But I think it’s clear that the vast majority of the rest are definitely not.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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