Ann Romney, other stay-at-home mothers' contribution helps strengthen the economy

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 4:15 p.m. MDT

6 week old Ashlyn McKay holds her mothers hand at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Related: Top list: The worth of a homemaker

Social relations and the economy suffer without a quality family life at home, said Sophia Aguirre, professor of economics at the Catholic University of America.

Aguirre’s comments follow Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen’s remarks in questioning Ann Romney, who didn’t work while raising her five sons.

Social capital, or the value of social relations and its effects on the economy, is necessary for economic growth, but it suffers without a quality family life in the home, Aguirre said. The absence of mothers in the home can jeopardize the sustainability of economic growth.

Teens who eat with their parents at least fives time per week are 17 percent more likely to obtain mostly A and B grades in school than those who only dine together zero to two times, according to Aguirre’s findings in a study on the family and economic growth done in 2008.

“I think that the value of the mother at home is extremely high,” Aguirre, who has held appointments at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University’s economics department, said in an interview with the Deseret News. “It’s an investment in the future generation and on themselves."

As an economist, Aquirre says she sees the disturbance of “social capital” through a lack of parenthood in the home as “undermining” for the economy.

Other economists also see the economic value of stay-at-home mothers.

Pat Fagan, Ph.D., director of the Marriage & Religion Research Institute in Washington D.C., says that the benefits of a stay-at-home mother are measured on a long-term basis.

He used Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as an example. The contribution of her five children over their lifetime "could easily be much greater than their father's," he said. “You’ve got to take a lifetime perspective.”

Fagan also says that homeschooling is rising, which benefits the economy and saves taxpayers' money on the cost of educating children.

In 2011, 23.8 percent of parents with children under 15 years old had one parent stay at home with them. That is the highest rate since 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Aguirre told the Deseret News that there is a steady growth in stay-at-home mothers, mostly among women between 20 and 29 years old.

Women are starting to move away from metropolitan areas with their husbands so they can afford being a homemaker, she said.

Only 33 percent of mothers say they want to work, Aguirre said. The majority of women prefer staying at home over working.

Though these economists advocate the advantages of stay-at-home mothers, they are not condemning those who choose to work.

“I don’t think its necessarily wrong for a woman to work outside of the home,” Aquirre said. “I do think that many women would prefer to not work while the children are young, and I think that’s a smart investment. The data is pretty clear across the board.”

Companies are having a hard time retaining female employees because they are unable to be flexible for working mothers, Aquirre said. Providing flexible schedules would lead to a less stressed female workforce.

Gary Becker, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, focused his study on human capital in the economy.

“The mother at home raising her children makes a greater contribution to the economy than the father in the workplace,” Becker said as quoted by Fagan.

Related: Top list: The worth of a homemaker

EMAIL: jferguson@desnews.com

TWITTER: @joeyferguson

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