The new image of a stay-at-home mom

The face of the stay-at-home mom has changed since the days of June Cleaver. Lately, SAHMs reflect a sign of the times.

According to the Census Bureau, more SAHMs are younger, less educated and have limited job skills or difficulty finding work.

When political pundit Hilary Rosen took a jab at Mitt Romney’s wife for never working “a day in her life,” Ann Romney instantly became the public image for stay-at-home moms in America. Raising a troupe of five boys was a career path for Ann, and she has openly expressed that her family was fortunate to have the financial freedom to make that choice. Ann Romney embodies the holistic image many think of regarding a stereotypical stay-at-home mom: polished, educated and wealthy. It’s a throwback to the June Cleavers of the 1950s. But the numbers argue otherwise. Today’s stay-at-home moms are starkly different than the Ann Romneys of this cohort.

The numbers don’t lie

Looking back on the 2007 U.S. Census numbers, the most recent set of data on the subject we have available, show Ann Romney’s ‘choice’ is not typical for most of the new stay-at-home mom sector. The Census found the 5.6 million stay-at-home moms in the U.S. were younger and more likely to be Hispanic or foreign-born than mothers who were in the labor force. The report also found that 19 percent of the stay-at-home mothers did not have a high school degree, and the same was true for only 8 percent of mothers in the work force. Additionally, 32 percent of the stay-at-home mothers had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 38 percent of their working counterparts. Also noted was the fact that about 65 percent of moms who stay home with children have a household income of less than $75,000.

Complementing the trend was a Gallup Poll released last May that found stay-at-home mothers are on average depressed, sad and angry. In fact, the mental health of stay-at-home moms fared far worse than employed moms at every income level. The poll measured laughter, enjoyment, happiness, worry, stress, learning something interesting, and having a high life evaluation rating, which middle- to high-income stay-at-home moms do as well as employed moms.

The implications for moms and kids?

It doesn’t take a therapist to recognize that an unhappy mom means unhappy children. By looking at the data it’s clear that moms with less financial resources have a harder time raising kids than those with wealth. But quality jobs are hard to come by and daycare isn’t cheap; there’s no one-size-fits-all shoe for this issue.

“We are still reminded of the mom in the 1950s, the June Cleaver with the pearls from an upper-middle class background, but that is not reality, now,” said Pamela Stone, professor of sociology at Hunter College in New York City and author of Opting Out?, a book that examines the phenomenon of high-achieving professional women leaving their lucrative jobs to return to full-time family life.

Stone points out the new stay-at-home moms are up against a “number of disadvantages” such as the cost of daycare, low wages and the lack of sick days needed to take care of a child if needed.

“It’s hard to find jobs to begin with, especially in this economy, and we know being a mom doesn’t help,” Stone said. “It’s tough for women who are less skilled because there are a lot of hurdles out there.”

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