Hard Choice For Moms: Stay at Home or Work?

Hard Choice For Moms: Stay at Home or Work?
You''ve got a new baby and a mortgage to pay for, so should you go back to work or stay home to raise Junior? In a change in trend, more women are considering the stay-at-home option.
By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Mothers with the financial means have long had the choice to go back to workor stay home after the birth of their children. Today, however, more moms inall economic levels appear to be considering the stay home option - at leastthat''s what some experts suspect when they point to recent population surveys,which show all female employment numbers declining after decades of sustainedgrowth.

"The employment decline is apparent among all income groups, roughlyequally," says Philip Cohen, PhD, associate professor of sociology at theUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Employment figures for married mothers with children under age 6 havedropped 7% to 10% since the peak years of 1997 to 2000, depending on the incomegroup, says Cohen. Overall, the work participation rate for all women dropped1.5% from 2000 to 2004, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This is significant because, for four decades, women''s labor participationrates consistently climbed, from 40.8% in 1970 to 57.5% in 2000. The phenomenoncaused profound changes in American family, culture, and economy. The shift indirection has some people wondering whether or not the sexual revolution atwork is over and what may have caused the change.

The ''Stay-at-Home'' Buzz

In a 2005 study, the U.S. Census Bureau reported an estimated 5.6 millionstay-at-home moms. That is a 22% increase from 1994.

"It used to be more popular and widely accepted for moms to work,"says Cara Gardenswartz, PhD, a clinical psychologist in independent practice inBeverly Hills, Calif. "There''s been a backlash, because right now, there''sactually more status to not be a working mom."

Melissa Milkie, PhD, associate professor of sociology at the University ofMaryland, College Park, believes that many factors such as family demands,number of kids, age of the youngest child, and time constraints prevent many oftoday''s mothers from entering or staying in the workforce even if they want toremain on the job.

On the other hand, Sylvia Allegretto, an economist for the Economic PolicyInstitute, says the recent dip in women''s employment has more to do with thecountry''s prolonged recovery from recession than with a change in women''s workpatterns. She points out that labor participation rates have decreased for menas well.

Men''s employment rates have declined 2.7% from 2000-2004, according to U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Allegretto may have a point about the recession, says Cohen, but he''s stillnot ruling out the possibility that women''s work patterns have changed.

"There''s never been a sustained decline in mothers'' employment until thelast 5 years," he says, noting that women''s employment rates have survivedother recessions. "It may be a testament to this recession, or a testamentto the squeeze on women to stay home."

Time will tell what has caused a decline in women''s labor participation.Until then, it appears that the dilemma of whether to stay at home, go back towork full time, or somewhere in between is a hot topic.

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