There is nothing that makes some members of the chattering class more jumpy than the idea that women may be choosing to stay at home with their children. Still evidently shaken by a 2003 New York Times piece on female Princeton grads who elected to stay home and raise children, the Washington Post let out a nearly audible sigh of relief as it headlined a story on Census Bureau data "Most Stay-at-Home Moms Start That Way, Study Finds: Many Are Younger, Less Educated, Hispanic."
Revealing the particular preoccupations of liberal land, reporter Donna St. George opens her story thus: "A first census snapshot of married women who stay at home to raise their children shows that the popular obsession with high-achieving professional mothers sidelining careers for family life is largely beside the point." Were you aware of this "popular obsession"? Nor I. The latest Census Bureau data show, St. George triumphantly reports, that "the profile of mothers at home ... is clearly at odds with the popular discussion ... of an opt-out revolution ... that has flourished in recent years." In fact, one in five mothers at home has less than a high school degree, compared with one in 12 mothers who work. And "Twelve percent of stay-at-home moms live below the poverty line, compared with 5 percent of other mothers." So there!
Well, OK. But we knew this, didn't we? We knew that women with lower levels of education and skills make the decision to raise their own children rather than seek a low-paying job that would barely cover the cost of childcare. That's not news, and it's not stupid either. And let's not overstate what the data show. Much of this is about as surprising as the sun rising in the east -- a higher percentage of mothers with an infant were stay-at-home moms compared with mothers of older children; 58 percent of stay-at-home moms had children under 5 compared with 43 percent of women in the workforce. Astonishing. On the other hand, there isn't a huge discrepancy between moms at home with a college degree (32 percent) and working mothers with a diploma (38 percent).
After 25 tendentious paragraphs hammering home (if you will) the notion that only losers stay home with the little ones, the story acknowledges this puzzling nugget: "In 1994, 19.8 percent of married-couple families with children younger than 15 had a stay-at-home mother. Last year, it was 23.7 percent."
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