Stay-at-Home Moms, You May Believe You Left the Workforce by Choice, But Did You?

Studies have shown that most Americans believe career opportunities for men and women are equal in this country. Still, statistics clearly show that women earn less than men, are underrepresented at the highest levels of many fields, and face other gender barriers -- such as bias against working mothers, and inflexible workplaces. How can there be such a disconnect between reality and perception?

That's what researchers at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University wanted to know. They postulated that discrimination against working mothers, for example, is as prevalent as it ever was, but it's hiding behind our options to make a choice. Women believe they're choosing to leave the workplace to stay home and raise their children, but tend to ignore the fact that if their workplace was less hostile toward and more supportive of the working mom, they might decide to stick around.

Their study, "Opting Out or Denying Discrimination? How the Framework of Free Choice in American Society Influences Perceptions of Gender Inequality," supports this theory.

"Although we've made great strides toward gender equality in American society, significant obstacles still do, in fact, hold many women back from reaching the upper levels of their organizations," said study co-author Nicole M. Stephens, assistant professor of management and organizations at Kellogg. "In our research, we sought to determine how the very idea of 'opting out,' or making a choice to leave the workplace, may be maintaining these social and structural barriers by making it more difficult to recognize gender discrimination."

For the study, researchers surveyed a number of working mothers who chose to stay home and raise their children, and found the vast majority of them said it was by choice, but they failed to recognize that discrimination against them might have influenced their choices.

For example, did Karen, a working mother of two, decide to stay home and raise her children full time because that was her real preference, or because her employers' policies made it impossible for her to progress in her job as a working mother? In other words, was staying at home with the kids preferable to dealing with the problems her parenting created at work?

Most of those surveyed didn't even realize that their choices might have been influenced by prejudice in the workplace. It's interesting to note how we tend to gloss over that.

"Choice has short-term personal benefits on well-being, but perhaps long-term detriments for women's advancement in the workplace collectively," said Stephens. "In general, as a society we need to raise awareness and increase attention for the gender barriers that still exist. By taking these barriers into account, the discussion about women's workplace departure could be reframed to recognize that many women do not freely choose to leave the workplace, but instead are pushed out by persistent workplace barriers, such as limited workplace flexibility, unaffordable childcare, and negative stereotypes about working mothers."



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Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell

Editor

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award-winning multi-media journalist and author of Career Comeback--Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want.  Her work has been translated into 20 different languages, and she is a frequent expert guest and commentator on news and talk shows. She has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, on the CBS Early Show, NBC Today, CNBC, Fox Business News, Dr. Phil, Oprah.com and many other media outlets.  Lisa discusses her AOL pieces each week and interviews vital guests on the web TV show, This Week in Careers. Learn more on LisaJohnsonMandell.com.

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Katie Malone

I found a great company that focuses on living a natural and healthy lifestyle. While being able to earn an income staying home with your kids. Take a look at http://aol.momsprovide.com

February 21 2014 at 7:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
me112233

When shall we stop this rediculous "men and women are equal" stuff? The concept of "equal" means that the two things being compared (here, men and women) are the same, as in the fractions 3/4 and 6/8 are the "same"; or 3 + 4 is the same as 7.

In case you haven't noticed, men and women aren't the same. There are the obvious physical attibutes, to begin with. Men tend to be taller, stronger, and have testicles. Women tend to live longer, have higer-pitched voices, and a uterus.

From a intellectual point of view, men tend to be better at invention and problem solving, women better at following a system and dealing with conflict.

Until the advent of "affirmative action" and "equal opportunity," a great many job categories were dominated by one gender of the other (though rarely was a job category 100% male or female). The tendencey for a single-gender dominance in certain job roles did not come about by a contrived "let's discriminate against women" conspiracy established sometime back in the dark ages.

Let's look at the job classes that were once dominated by men, yet are now in at least "equal" status. Medical doctors for example. Lot's of women are now medical doctors, at least 50% of med school classes are female, and it has been that way for 20 years now. Fifty years ago, about 10% of med school students were female. OK, so we opened up the doors for women to be medical doctors. The result? A shortage of surgeons. The women simply won't apply to sugical residencies at the rate the men do. But with men's representation in medschools cut way back, the net result is a shortage of surgeons out there. It seems that life as a surgeon requires long, unpredictable hours, and most women -- even those who are pursuing a career in medicine -- don't want the job. Funny, we allow women to take 50% of the jobs in med school, but nobody FORCES them to take their share of the not-so-fun jobs when they get done with med school. This illustrates the problem in comparing salaries -- women tend to avoid most demanding of jobs, the very jobs that tend to pay the best. Another observation of the affirmative-action forced balance in medical schools -- even though women now account for 33% of the total physicians in the USA (up from 10% in 1970), virtually all of the new innovations/discoveries in medicine are coming from men.

Now, move forward to other used-to-be-male-dominated jobs. Pharmacists for example. Two thirds of pharmacy school students are women these days. Yes, in the face of a pharmacist shortage, the women are not helping much. You see, the AVERAGE male pharmacist works 44 hours a week, the average female pharmacist, only 36 hours a week. The next time you hear some bleeding heart politician crying about why women get paid less, realize also that the average man puts in about 20% more hours in actual work each week.

And tell me, when was the last time your car broke down at 2:00 AM and a woman showed up to tow you in?

August 01 2011 at 6:53 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to me112233's comment
oceanlovin

Absolutely!

This study is a total joke!
How is it "prejudice in the workplace" to expect a woman to do the job she was hired to do and not hand it off to someone else just because she needs to take off to be with her children? How is that the problem of her colleagues who have to take care of her work load on top of their own?
You can't feel too sorry for the employers because most of them receive government subsidies to hire women instead of men.

You can't have it both ways. Want to make the same money as men, then make the same commitment to your career- work the same long hours.
I'm a woman but I'm so tired of hearing women today complain. It seems they're never satisfied, but always want more special considerations. Enough already!

August 01 2011 at 9:35 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
maycee44

How nice that so many mothers have the option of staying home or working outside the home- fathers rarely ever have that option. Women have a husband or the government to support them.

Women have been given preference in education and employment for many years now! When are women (like the writer of this BS) going to stop whining? Women make less money at work because they usually work fewer hours, and also work at less labor-intensive and dangerous jobs than many men.

If a woman chooses to have children why should her employer lose money due to her wanting to take off whenever she needs to? Her children are not her bosses problem! Where does the sense of entitlement end?

The percentage of women in colleges are higher now than men- especially white American men, who have been shoved aside in employment and education due to affirmative action.

Women- quit whining for a while!

August 01 2011 at 6:02 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to maycee44's comment
me112233

Well said. Very well said.

August 01 2011 at 6:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gsandersjr

There is no more valuable a job than that of a mother. Money is not everything. I do find it interesting that these types of messages are directed at mothers with real husbands. Seems like the stay at home moms with Gov't as their provider and husband don't get told this message?

August 01 2011 at 4:54 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Danny

Ok, women are so stupid they just THOUGHT they were leaving on their own accord! Aha. To me that's a far greater insult to women than anything this "writer" with a baldly obvious agenda conjures up in this "article" I give women credit enough to believe they know preciesly what their intentions, motivations and decisions mean.

August 01 2011 at 3:52 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
audrajean

As a 60 year old, I remember my mother both staying home and working. The house was empty when she started going to work. The world was a safer place, for kids, but no mother to hear our problems or greet us after school. Suddenly, after being used to being called in for supper, I was making it. I cooked my first Thanksgiving turkey when I was 13. Mom had to go to work and I understood that however, when I had my children, I WANTED to stay home with them. Having your mother be there for you is something money just can't buy. Our house, with my mother in it, holds the best of my childhood memories. I'm so glad that young women are starting to stay home to raise their children. Society will only benefit in the long run.

August 01 2011 at 3:35 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to audrajean's comment
hollimon2

You are so right. My 2 kids are 16 years apart so I basically raised 2 only children. I went back to work when my oldest was 6th grade until his brother was born. My husband died when my youngest was 3 so I was able because of Social Security Survivor's benefits to stay home with him until he turned 16. The 2 were talking as adults and my youngest told me his brother really hated it when I went to work for financial reasons. I told him that his brother was old enough not to have a mom at home and that that surprised me. He said he perfectly understood how his brother felt because even at 16, he hated it when I went to work because it was so sad coming home to an empty house.

August 01 2011 at 3:58 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to hollimon2's comment
audrajean

Thank you. I was fortunate enough so that I could stay home. I loved children and took care of many others, besides mine. Many for free. I remember having a station wagon full of kids, of all sizes and colors, coming back from a fishing trip. Jennifer was sitting next to me and asked if the people in the next car, at the light, thought that they were all my children. This was before the seat belt laws and I think my car probably resembled the cover of the book Cheaper by the Dozen. I patted Jen on the knee and told her that they probably do think we are all the same family. I will never forget what this little girl said as long as I live. "They must think you are the luckiest mommy in the whole world!" Out of the mouths of babes. Her mother was one that had to work.

August 01 2011 at 4:17 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
dragondancer1814

That's one reason I still want to be a stay-at-home mom until my kids are "grown and flown," even if it means finding something to work at at home such as selling my craftwork online or whatever. That way I can still be there for them when they get out of school in the afternoons, which is when teenagers are most likely to get drunk, drugged, ganged, or pregnant. My mom was a SAHM until I was about 15, when she started teaching high school. I remember joining a ton of afterschool activities then because I didn't like coming home to an empty house and having my parents and younger sister dump on me every evening like it was MY fault their days sucked. This way I got home after they had a chance to settle in and were in a reasonably good mood. Also, I couldn't talk to my parents about anything because Mom was always grading papers or tests until late that night, so her stock response was usually "I'm busy, go away." Couldn't talk to Dad about girl problems because he was...well, a GUY. Major eeeww.

Anyway, I swore I wasn't going to do that to my own kids, which my mom still doesn't get. She still asks me when I'm going to get a "real" job. Ironic, since it was her SAHM days that inspired me to do the same!

August 01 2011 at 6:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
homeimps

So long as women are getting fake boobs, fake hair, fake everything, and refusing to learn how to swing a hammer or at least to find out what a hammer is used for, prejudice and inequality among the sexes will prevale.

August 01 2011 at 2:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
marymmaryntexas

Hi Lisa, I would just like to remind Women of something else important that I didn't know about when I was a stay at home Mom. When you don't work, you don't pay in Social Security. When you reach the age to sign up for it. You are in shell shock because your SS check is such a small amount. It really hurts us later in life when we need it badly for our income. I suggest women try to find atleast part time work at home while raising their families. I don't mind telling you about mine. I recieve $310 a month with a $98 deduction for my medicare. I am sure I couldn't be the only one that didn't know this would happen to me. Thank you for listening. I would like to add that I am grateful that I did raise my children before joining the work force. I pesonally believe the world would be a better place if more Mom's could afford to be home with the children. Our Goverment should make some kind of allowance or bonus for Moms who choose to stay home. It is a hard job but well worth it. Thank you for listening. Mary nTexas

August 01 2011 at 2:48 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to marymmaryntexas's comment
Rick

Mary that's why you have the option to take off your spouses SS check instead of yours. Look into it and you get the option to take whichever is higher.

August 01 2011 at 9:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dragondancer1814

I've said the same thing for years! I read an article in Forbes or Fortune one year (I forget which magazine), and they calculated all the different paid positions that are combined into being a stay-at-home mom, and if we actually rated a paycheck (which I insist we DO), it would be six figures, easily. Goddess knows we deserve one!

August 01 2011 at 6:05 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
sugarcreekchile

So, these women left the workplace by choice to be full-time mothers but only because they were too stupid to realize the reason they left was because they were being discriminated against? This is the dumbest study ever and attaches more value to the working woman than the stay-at-home mom which, in itself, is blatant discrimination. This study presupposes that every woman's hidden desire is to be in and move up in the workplace and that if there were free childcare and flexible work schedules, they'd prefer to be working. Did any of these mothers tell the researchers that I didn't want to stop working but because childcare is so expensive and I can't have a flexible schedule, I decided to quit work? I wonder how many of these women never wanted to work in the first place and were happy because having a child allowed them to quit work? It's only in the last 40 years with the advent of women's lib that the expectation has been that every woman should work because being a mother is somehow demeaning. Today more women are opting out of this propaganda campaign and realizing that being a mother is more important than being some corporate slave.

August 01 2011 at 2:37 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
ribbonblossoms

This is pretty much the dumbest thing I've read all day.

August 01 2011 at 1:20 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply

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