It Isn’t Just Super Wealthy Moms Who Choose to Lean Out

It is a common belief that the only mothers who choose to stay at home with their children are those who are super wealthy. Or those who happen to be married to successful doctors and lawyers and can afford to live comfortably enough that they don’t need to go to work. However, the research has shown that many stay-at-home mothers choose home over the office for another reason, one that has more to do with not having enough money than being super wealthy.

In fact, one of the main reasons that moms choose to “lean out” (stay home rather than pursue careers) has been because financially speaking, it’s cheaper than paying daycare. The idea, as Lisa Miller, New York Magazine writer recently suggested, that mothers are purposely opting out of the labor force simply because they instinctively prefer to “devote themselves to home more than fathers do” implies that the decision is a casual, leisurely decision and that mothers make plenty of money and just don’t want to go to work.

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While this scenario can be true of many mothers, the truth of the matter is that the reason women stay at home rather than men, is because when looking at the finances and factoring in whose salary it would be wiser to give up, it is most often the salaries of men that are higher. However, it isn’t just households with husbands who make boat loads of money where mothers are choosing to stay at home. According to a 2007 government analysis on married mothers, women whose husbands were in the bottom 25% of earners were the most likely to choose staying home over a career.

Unfortunately, as noted by Doug Barry of Jezebel, the latest research by NYU sociologist, Paula England, shows that this hasn’t changed much since 2007. In fact, women with degrees and high-earning husbands, are more likely to work outside the home, presumably because they can pursue careers that pay enough to make it worth it.

Mothers with only a high school degree or less, generally have a hard enough time finding a job, let alone one that would justify paying $4,000 to $15,000 per year in daycare. According to our recent data, the average hourly rate for a Walmart cashier is $7.39 to $10.53 per hour; the hourly rate for a restaurant host/hostess at Applebee’s is  $7.56 (wait staff generally earn only $4.22 per hour plus tips).

Once you add in the hazards of daycare in the U.S. and the fact that many low-paying jobs lack parental packages, or appropriate benefit packages, there really isn’t any surprise that it’s really the low income families who are more likely to make the decision for one parent to stay home.

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(Photo Credit: By Bryan Anthony/