Female Conformism
October 02, 2009, 07:13 PM
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You might think that the question of whether mothers of young children should work full-time, part-time, or stay home, would be considered a personal decision dependent upon family and individual circumstances, one which kibbutzers would respect and wish well. But, that`s not how it works. Relative to men, women tend to be more conformist. They want to do what other women are doing, and they want other women to do what they are doing.

Hence, there has been a long cold war in the female side of the press between full-time working mothers versus stay-at-home mothers (with part-time working mothers in the middle). Of course, the full-time working mothers control the means of journalistic production, so the battle in the press is one-sided.

Thus, you get the following kind of article that gleans Census data for evidence of who is in fashion.

From the Washington Post:

Census Dispels `Opting-Out` Notion for Stay-at-Home Moms Most Stay-at-Home Moms Start That Way, Study Finds Many Are Younger, Less Educated, Hispanic By Donna St. George Washington Post Staff Writer

A first census snapshot of married women who stay 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.

Instead, census statistics released Thursday show that stay-at-home mothers tend to be younger and less educated, with lower family incomes. They are more likely than other mothers to be Hispanic or foreign-born.

Census researchers said the new report is the first of its kind and was spurred by interest in the so-called "opt-out revolution" among well-educated women said to be leaving the workforce to care for children at home.

"I do think there is a small population, a very small population, that is opting out, but with the nationally representative data, we`re just not seeing that," said Diana B. Elliott, a family demographer who is co-author of the U.S. Census Bureau report.

The report showed that mothering full time at home is a widespread phenomenon, including 5.6 million women, or nearly one in four married mothers with children younger than 15. By comparison, the country`s stay-at-home dads number 165,000.

Researchers noted that the somewhat younger ages of stay-at-home mothers could partly explain their lower education levels and that less family income would be expected with just one parent in the workforce.

Even so, the profile of mothers at home that emerged is clearly at odds with the popular discussion that has flourished in recent years, they said.

The notion of an opt-out revolution took shape in 2003, when New York Times writer Lisa Belkin coined the term to describe the choices made by a group of high-achieving Princeton women who left the fast track after they had children.

It has since been the subject of public debate, academic study and media obsession. It has been derided as a myth but has never quite gone away in an era when women still struggle to balance work and family and motherhood`s conflicts have been parodied and probed in everything from Judith Warner`s book "Perfect Madness" to television`s "Desperate Housewives" and "The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom."

The census statistics show, for example, that the educational level of nearly one in five mothers at home was less than a high school degree, as compared with one in 12 other mothers. Thirty two percent of moms at home have at least a bachelor`s degree, compared with 38 percent of other mothers.

One of the things I`d point out is that in today`s U.S., mothers, especially mothers of multiple preschool children (i.e., those most likely to stay at home), are an awful lot more Hispanic, foreign-born, and poorly educated than the mothers whose deliberations are described in such agonizing detail in the New York Times Magazine. In California in 2005, for example, the the total fertility rate for immigrant Latinas was 3.7, compared to 1.6 for American born white women.

The kind of people who subscribe to the New York Times or Washington Post are an ever-shrinking part of the population, although you won`t hear about that fact much in the NYT or WP.

What does seem apparent from the Census report is that the historic female shift from the home to the workplace that began after the Baby Boom ran out in the mid-1960s came to an end some time ago, probably about a decade and a half ago.

In 1986, 59 percent of married couples with children under 18 had both spouses in the labor force. This percentage rose to 68 in 2000 and was slightly lower, at 66 percent, in 2007.
In case you were wondering: There was an increase in the percentage of couples where only the wife was in the labor force. This was a small percentage of couples but rose from 2 percent to 3 percent from 1986 to 2007.