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September 20, 2005

Stay-at-Home Motherhood as a Luxury Good

The New York Times today's run a breathless story expressing shock that some women from elite colleges are planning to stay home with their kids.

Not once in the whole story does the author state the obvious point that elite women can make such definitive plans only because they have the clear prospect of similarly upper class mates. Most women don't have the luxury of being able to make such plans given the reality that it takes two paychecks for most families just to survive.

And guess what? Given the financial possibility of not having to work, most women AND MEN would work less hours or not at all, as this survey of working moms and dads shows:


But most families don't have the money to act on that preference.

The Times story is just plain bad journalism in not even discussing the fact that these women have a completely different set of life expectations and possibilities from most women who don't have the luxury of "choosing" not to have a second income for their family.

In fact, the real social trend of the last few decades is that more mothers have to work for their family to survive. As the National Center for Children in Poverty details,

Increasing numbers of mothers caring for young children work either full time (31 percent) or part time (42 percent). The percentage of mothers who do not work has declined from 51 percent in 1987, to 27 percent in 2000. Fifty-six percent of all mothers with children under age one work.
So if the New York Times was doing their job, they would be examining the fact that stay-at-home motherhood has become a luxury good for the elite, like nannies, designer private preschools and other paraphenalia of designer parenthood.

Or as Matt suggests, maybe they should stop writing lifestyle stories about their friends and deal with the public policy issues that restrict the ability of most parents to deal with work/home issues.

Posted by Nathan at September 20, 2005 06:07 AM