SALT LAKE CITY — American homemakers are more politically diverse than the stereotype of a conservative, stay-at-home soccer mom may suggest, according to the third annual American Family Survey, conducted by YouGov for the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University.
The survey of 3,000 Americans found that those who identified as homemakers were evenly split along partisan lines and in how they voted in the 2016 election. Twenty-eight percent of homemakers identified with the Republican party and 32 percent identified with the Democrat party, according to Chris Karpowitz, co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. Among those who identified as independent, 4 percent leaned Republican and 13 percent leaned Democrat.
Researchers at BYU were surprised by the data, having expected to see more homemakers lean Republican.
“People assume that homemakers are conservative and, thus, that choosing to stay at home is a conservative choice,” said Karpowitz in an email. “But in fact, people who describe themselves as homemakers are both conservative and liberal in their political views.”
Respondents self-identified their occupation as full time, part time, temporarily laid off, unemployed, retired, permanently disabled, homemaker or student. Those who identified as homemakers made up 13 percent of all married people or 15 percent of all married people with children. The majority (94 percent) of homemakers were women.
Different but the same
While more than half of homemakers in the American Family Survey identified with a political party, the survey also found nearly half (49 percent) of homemakers didn’t vote in the last presidential election. But those who did bucked stereotypes by splitting their votes evenly between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In the 2016 election, 25 percent voted for Clinton and 24 percent voted for Trump.
Nonhomemakers appeared to be more active in voting in the last election, with 30 percent casting their ballots for Clinton and 36 percent for Trump. One-third didn't vote.
Kathleen Gerson, a collegiate professor of arts and science at New York University who specializes in family and gender research, said homemakers are an extremely diverse group.
She said the perception of homemakers as conservative comes from the idea that traditionally organized households, where the husband is the breadwinner and the wife is the homemaker, are more likely to hold conservative views, while dual-income households are more likely to hold progressive views.
But today, the definition of “homemaker” is vague, she said. During most of the 20th century, the wife was not in the labor force in most households with children. Today, only 19.5 percent of households illustrate that model, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and Gerson said being a homemaker can mean different things to different people.
It can represent someone who doesn't work outside the home, or it can mean a partner who works part time or retired or widowed. Because of the fluid definition of "homemaker," Gerson said, it’s harder to predict political views based on work status because political views don’t change as readily as workforce status.
In Salt Lake City, stay-at-home dad James Estrada and his son drive to school while talking about the Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars costumes Estrada makes with his son. After school, they'll have Lego time and dinner with mom when she arrives home from work.
Estrada, a Democrat, said his choice to be a stay-at-home dad had to do with family finances, the cost of childcare, his wife’s career opportunities and their desire to have someone stay home with their child.
“It didn’t start off as any political statement,” he said. “We weren’t doing this as a push for equality in jobs or anything like that. It was just something that made sense.”
Estrada said politics don’t dictate his family’s day-to-day life, even though he occasionally takes his son to protests and rallies to teach him about the democratic process and how people can make their voices heard.
For West Jordan homemaker Amy Brown, a Republican, every day starts with morning snuggles, followed by playtime, home schooling and then dinner with dad when he gets home from work.
Their school lessons sometimes involve analyzing how government policy aligns with principles found in the U.S. Constitution. She, too, will take the kids to the state Capitol building to protest tax increases with signs in hand.
To her, being a homemaker is about creating a loving environment for her children and teaching them what she believes is important: “I think it’s my job to prepare them for real life,” Brown said.
Even though Estrada and Brown are from opposite political camps, they prioritize their family lives in similar ways: They want their children to get an education; they play with their kids; they eat dinner as a family. Those priorities mirror findings from previous American Family Surveys, according to Karpowitz.
“Both conservatives and liberals love their families and want them to be happy,” said Karpowitz in an email. “Similarly, both liberals and conservatives make the choice to stay home with young children. It’s not really a partisan issue, even though it sometimes gets portrayed that way.”
And regardless of who homemakers voted for, the American Family Survey showed homemakers largely agreed on the importance of parenting in their personal lives. Homemakers (86 percent) more often indicated than nonhomemakers (71 percent) that being a parent is “extremely” or “very” important to their personal identities.
A diverse group
As Gerson said, homemakers are a diverse group, living in different circumstances and coming from different backgrounds. And the American Family Survey bore that out in several ways.
According to the survey, 45 percent of homemakers lived in suburban areas, while 35 percent lived in rural places and 20 percent lived in urban areas.
In education, 30 percent of homemakers had some college experience and 19 percent graduated college.3 comments on this story
Homemakers were less likely than other Americans to report household incomes above $100,000 a year, which, according to the American Family Survey report, is because they likely live in a one-income household. Thirty-three percent of homemakers were low-income, 60 percent were middle-income and 8 percent were high-income.
The survey found that the majority (76 percent) of homemakers said they were white, which somewhat reflects U.S. census data, while 14 percent were Hispanic, 4.5 percent black, 2 percent Asian, 2.5 percent Native American, less than 1 percent mixed and less than 1 percent of another race.