PLEASANT GROVE, Utah — Afton, 2, and Hadley, 4, are down for a nap, so their mom, Chelsey Tipton, has a few minutes to relax and talk about why she and her husband, Will, always planned that she'd stay home once they had children.
She worked the first five years of their marriage as an orthodontic assistant, quitting right before Hadley was born. She will likely go back to work once the children no longer need her at home, she said.
"We wanted to raise them instead of having them in day care and having someone else raise them," Tipton said.
As a stay-at-home mom, Tipton is in the minority nationally. But it's also a minority that is growing. After years of declines as more mothers became employed, the number of stay-at-home moms is now increasing. It rose to 29 percent in 2012, compared to 23 percent in 2000, according to the latest report from the Pew Research Center.
"The share has been on the rise since around 2000, which is a turnaround from the previous three decades, when the number of stay-at-home mothers was plummeting," said Gretchen Livingston, a Pew senior researcher who co-wrote the report. "And stay-at-home moms are not by any means a monolith. While 70 percent are the more traditional married women with working husbands, three in 10 are not traditional. I'm not sure if people realize that."
Most of the other stay-at-home moms are single. They are not cohabiting, although some live with an adult relative. Of the single stay-at-home mothers, 71 percent live in poverty, even if they do live with another adult, Livingston said. Only 15 percent of married stay-at-home mothers live in poverty.
The report notes that stay-at-home mothers include those who say they stay home to care for their family, but also those who cannot find work, are disabled or are enrolled in school. The number who can't find work is up to 6 percent from 1 percent in 2000.
By the numbers
"The recent turnaround appears to be driven by a mix of demographic, economic and societal factors, including rising immigration as well as a downturn in women's labor force participation, and is set against a backdrop of continued public ambivalence about the impact of working mothers on young children," the report said.
The ambivalence refers to survey results included in the report showing that while Americans are much more accepting of mothers working outside the home than they were in 1970, 60 percent believe that having a parent at home with young children is ideal — although the number who achieve it falls well below that.
Livingston said the share of kids with a traditional stay-at-home mom has dropped by half since the 1970s.
Close to two-thirds of stay-at-home mothers are married with working husbands. They are also the most likely group to say they are home by choice to care for families. Most of them do not, as some have claimed, qualify as highly educated and well-off. In 2012, what have been called "opt-out mothers" — those with at least a master's degree and family income exceeding $75,000 — accounted for only 5 percent of married stay-at-home moms with working husbands.
Other stay-at-home mothers include the aforementioned single mothers (20 percent), cohabiting mothers (5 percent) and those who are married to a husband who does not work (7 percent). The report says only 41 percent of those who are single and 64 percent of those who cohabit say they are home mainly to care for family.
"They are more likely to say they are ill or disabled, unable to find a job or enrolled in school," the report says.
Regardless of marital status, stay-at-home mothers are on average younger and less educated than their working counterparts; 42 percent are younger than 35. Nearly half have a high school diploma or less, something that's true of only 30 percent of working mothers. Cohabiting or single stay-at-home mothers are younger than those who are married. Married stay-at-home mothers are more likely to have been born in a foreign country, compared to those who are single or cohabiting.
Stay-at-home moms in general are also less likely to be white and more likely to be immigrants. The overall growth in the share of mothers born outside of the United States and increase in America's Latin and Asian populations likely contribute to the increase in the share of mothers who stay home, the report says.
The report relied on current population survey data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, primarily covering 1970 to 2012.
The researchers looked at differences by the mother's education level, as well. "People with less education are far more likely to stay at home," said Livingston. "That fits in with the larger idea that maybe some are staying home for economic reasons — that they do not have resources to pay for child care, for instance," she added.34 comments on this story
The researchers also analyzed time-use diaries and learned that mothers at home do more housework and child care, but they also have more leisure and sleep. Married stay-at-home moms do more child care and less leisure pursuit than those who are single, they noted.
Mothers at home report seven more hours a week on child care than working moms, 18 hours compared to 11 hours.
Tipton says she may go back to work when the children are in school, but she's not rushing it. "I just want to be very involved in their education and activities," she said.
"I have no regrets being a stay-at-home mom. I miss some of the social aspects of work, but this is the best thing for my kids. Some people aren't able to stay home. I feel like I'm lucky."
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