Although most people just assume that stay-at-home moms are luxury-swaddled layabouts who have chosen to remain in the silk, childrearing cocoon of a home that their rich doctor/lawyer/business executive husband has graciously provided for them, research has shown again and again that this simply isn’t the case. Most stay-at-home moms don’t really choose raising children over working because they’re so affluent they can afford not to work, rather they choose to stay at home because the sort of employment they’re most likely to obtain won’t cover the costs of childcare.
Earlier this year, New York Magazine writer Lisa Miller tried to bamboozle the guileless public into believing that an entire cohort of college-educated “feminists housewives” were opting out of the labor force because “mothers instinctively want to devote themselves to home more than fathers do.” Could there really be an “opt out revolution” afoot amongst the country’s upper class feminists? Are stay-at-home moms simply staying at home because they don’t need extra money and are totally fulfilled without that burdensome social construct of productive activity we benignly call a “career”? No, not really.
A 2007 government analysis on married mothers found that women whose husbands were in the bottom 25 percent of earners were most likely to stay at home full time. That trend hasn’t changed much, according to NYU sociologist Paula England, whose latest research shows that, with the exception of a very few women with ultra high-earning husbands, more-educated moms are more likely to be employed. England further explained to NBC News’ Allison Lin that this correlation between education and employment most likely owes itself to the fact that women with higher levels of education can more often find the sorts of interesting or lucrative jobs that make it worth their while to leave the home:
Women who can’t get good jobs anyhow – maybe not enough to cover their child care costs or maybe not worth it in meaning – are the ones who are more likely to, if they have a husband, make the calculation (to stay home). It really is kind of the opposite of what a lot of people believe.
Linn goes on to cite a Gallup analysis of 45,000 women from last year that found “that 75 percent of college-educated women with kids under 18 were working, compared with 48 percent of those moms with a high school degree or less.” Moreover, 77 percent of moms with household incomes at or above the $90,000 mark were working, while a mere 45 percent of moms with household incomes of less than $24,000 had entered the labor force.
This just goes to reiterate the fact that being a mom in the U.S. is hard, way harder than it is, say, in Belarus or Canada. That’s mostly because childcare services in this country are often expensive and unreliable, but it’s also because the U.S. economy is a brutalizing charnel house where callow, well-intentioned young professionals go to be drained of their productivity by vampiric capitalists who (generally) make little allowance for paid parental leave.
Image via AP, Jim Cole