As described yesterday, I searched all over the internet to try to substantiate the claim that the number of stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) has increased by 15 percent in less than 10 years.

And finally, I found it: Table SHP-1: Parents and Children in Stay-At-Home Parent Family Groups: 1994 to Present. In fact, this table reports that the number of stay-at-home mothers increased by over 19 percent between 1994 and 2003, from 4.5 million to 5.4 million.

I hope that some of you are saying "but…" right now. Doesn’t 5.4 million sound awfully low? For perspective, there were over 93 million women between the ages of 16 and 65. How can this be right? The catch is that Census is using a very narrow definition of what constitutes a stay-at-home parent: you have to be a married parent of a child under 15, out of the labor force for an entire year, say that the reason you’re not working is to care for "home and family" and your spouse has to be in the labor force for the entire year. RebelDad did an excellent job least year of explaining the drawbacks of this definition, so I won’t repeat them.

Even though this definition isn’t perfect, this is the first longitudinal data I’ve seen on the number of stay-at-home dads (SAHDs), applying the same definition to a consistent data series over time. They found 98,000 SAHDs (using this narrow definition) in 2003, down from a high of 106,00 in 2002, but up from just 49,000 in 1996. However, because the number of SAHDs is relatively, there’s a lot of "noise" in the figures — I asked the Census bureau, and they said that the drop from 2002 to 2003 isn’t statistically significant. One way that statisticians deal with this kind of noise is to pool the findings from several years. So I compared the average number of SAHDs for 1994-1996 to the average number for 2001-2003, which suggests a whopping 50.8 percent increase. Just comparing 1994 to 2003
produces a 28.9 percent increase, also quite impressive.

One way to get a sense of the limitations of the definition is to compare this series to a similar one that just looks at married couples, and whether one, both or neither is in the labor force. This comparison indicates that in 70 percent of the married couples where only the husband was in the labor force, the wife met the definition of "stay-at-home mother." But in the married couples where only the wife was in the labor force, only about 10 percent of the husbands met the definition of "stay-at-home father."

One reason for the gap is the requirement that only spouses of year-round workers can count as "at-home parents." I’m not certain, but I think that taking maternity leave is considered as being "not in the labor force." If that’s the case, my husband wouldn’t have counted as being an at home dad last year, because I was on maternity leave for 12 weeks. Adding back in the parents who meet all of the other requirements to be an at home parent would increase the reported number of SAHDs by 60 percent, to 157,000, but the reported number of SAHMs only by 12 percent, to 6 million. I also think men are less likely to say that the reason they’re not working is to "care for family and spouse."

4 Responses to “SAHMs and SAHDs”

  1. RebelDad Says:

    Damn. Thanks for pulling these numbers. I hadn’t seen these latest data (from 2003), and I love the breakout tables. It makes it easier than every to figure out exactly how and where we’re being undercounted …
    … as I’ve said before, the labor force numbers are a lousy way to measure at-home fathers (and, obviously, at-home mothers). The strict not-in-labor-force definition misses hundreds of thousands of guys (like me) who contribute small sums to the household income. In an increasingly mobile and well-educated “freelance nation,” it’s easy for nonworking folks like myself to make a buck or two during naptime.
    Again, thanks for doing the hard work.

  2. Alison Says:

    The best analysis of at-home mother stats that I’ve seen is from the book What’s A Smart Woman Like You Doing At Home, and it’s reprinted here: It’s outdated, but still relevant. Honestly, it’s ridiculous to count parents who earn a little on the side writing or selling something or whatever as anything but at-home parents. Presumably the liberal definition of employed is useful to the Census Bureau or someone, but it isn’t very meaningful when looking at the question of parents at home and how those numbers are changing. A far more useful way to ask the question, imo, is to look at who’s minding the children (and I believe there is an old government report by that name). I work a little (less and less with each kid — I have three), so I’m considered employed by the census bureau. I have 6 hours of babysitting a week and anyone looking at my day would call me an at-home mom. And any significantly useful statistics has to look at the part-time question in regards to both daycare and employment. There is a lot of grey area out there.

  3. Alison Says:

    Here’s the 1996 report (based on 1993 data) “Who’s Minding the Preschoolers?” —

  4. Christy Says:

    Recently “uncovered” that my prof. bro. and his prof. wife are “latchkeying” young sons. I cannot understand this from my own years of “insuring” that someone was home to “meet and greet” “share and feed” my young sons in the early grades. While I had suspected this was “the norm,” I am not close in relationship nor distance, to my bro. And, “now” that I have “strongly” suggested they should have “supervision” into the eve. hours (and for more than 20-30 min. alone time)(((as in hours at a time))), this bro. may not be happy with my “interference.” (((as he is sure to see it as such))) Two siblings, left alone together, are “sure” to “think of behaviors” that one, alone, might not “consider.” Also, given the early-grade-school-agegroup…they have surely had contact with friends/relatives who “have more freedom within the home environment,” and, when their parents are away…”behaviors they have seen their friends exhibit…would be more likely tried-out” …if nothing else, than for the “sibling’s audience. In this case, the bottom line was my “disbelief” that two prof.s wouldn’t take the “trouble” to hire a person to “be there” for what should be their most valuable posessions. (by the way…the older son was both into the butcher knives (and use of the knives) and into dad’s unlocked tool/workshop (took one item out)…and that for the the limited-time, I had unexpectedly dropped into the picture.

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