The News Story – Stay-at-home mums on the rise as economy settles

The recent stabilization of our economy has resulted in an increase in stay-at-home mums, a recent article from The Washington Times reports.  “According to a recent Pew Research Center report,” the article states, “a greater share of mothers is not working outside the home than at any time in the past 20 years.”  Additionally, what is particularly interesting is that “[t]he largest share [of stay-at-home mothers] consists of ‘traditional’ married stay-at-home mothers with working husbands…They made up roughly two-thirds of the nation’s 10.4 million stay-at-home mothers in 2012.”  This means that we can safely say that most mothers choose to stay at home not due to economic necessity, but because they genuinely desire to care for their children and home over pursuing paid employment.

This finding seems consistent with other recent research concerning stay-at-home fathers.  A recent article from Newsday explains how, as the economy has stabilized, the percentage of stay-at-home fathers has decreased.  This is because stay-at-home fathers often find themselves in this position due to economic factors, such as a loss of job or low income. 

As recent research indicates, female homemakers tend to be happier than working mothers or wives.  This is consistent with both the positive correlation we see between stay-at-home mothers and the stabilizing economy, as well as the negative correlation between stay-at-home fathers and the improved job market.  If women really are happiest as homemakers, then we should expect that women will choose to stay at home when they are financially able to do so.  Likewise, since men seem to largely be stay-at-home fathers not by choice, but due to economic pressures or related factors, we can speculate that, unlike mothers, fathers prefer to pursue employment outside of the home rather than being stay-at-home fathers when they are economically or financially able to do so.

The New Research – Homemakers are happier

When she wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963, Betty Friedan claimed that the life of a full-time mother and homemaker confined women to a miserable existence. While media and academic elites continue to drink the Kool-Aid, an international team of sociologists finds that, all things being equal, married homemakers around the world are indeed not only happy but also significantly happier than their peers who work full time outside the home.

Granted, the standardized-mean difference between the two sets of wives in their most sophisticated model is modest (0.11), leading the researchers to caution that “homemakers enjoy only a small advantage.” Nonetheless, that small advantage is robust enough (p<0.001) to debunk any feminist assertion that women cannot find fulfilment without a career. Moreover, in none of the twenty-eight countries surveyed were wives who worked full time in the labour market significantly happier than their peers who were homemakers.

These aren’t the only findings that prompt the researchers to caution “against equating employment with satisfaction.” Drawing on data from the 2002 Family and Gender module of the International Social Survey Program representing more than 7,000 married women, Judith Treas of the University of California (Irvine) and her international colleagues also found that homemakers who work part time in the labour force are no happier than their peers who don’t work outside the home at all. In other words, the real happiness gap among married women is between those who work outside the home full time and those who are employed part time or not at all.

In fact, being a homemaker appears to be the most reliable predictor of the happiness of married women throughout the study. As might be expected, family income, husband’s share of domestic duties, wife’s perception of fairness in the division of household labour, couple conflict, and family stress were also found to be related to the happiness of married woman. Yet controlling for these mediating variables, write the researchers, “exacerbates rather than eliminates the homemaker’s happiness advantage.” Nor did national differences in social spending, liberal gender ideology, per-capita GDP, and female labour-force participation rate eliminate the homemaker’s advantage. In general, higher measures of these factors in cross-national analyses only slightly reduced the disadvantage in happiness of wives who work full-time outside the home.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson, “New Research,” The Family in America Vol 26 Number 1, Spring 2012.  Study: Judith Treas, Tanja van der Lippe, and Tsui-o Chloe Tai, “The Happy Homemaker? Married Women’s Well-Being in Cross-National Perspective,” Social Forces 90.1 [September 2011]: 111–32.)

This article has been republished with permission from The Family in America, a publication of The Howard Center. The Howard Center is a MercatorNet partner site.

Nicole M. King is the Managing Editor of The Howard Center’s quarterly journal, The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy, the United States’ leading journal of family-policy research....