When I push back against the stay-at-home mom fantasy — the myth that children fare better when mothers do not work, and that this lifestyle benefits anyone at all — I am often met with: “What do you care? We should respect all women's choices in the spirit of sisterhood!”
When women chose to stay home full-time, abandon career and earning, in the name of better mothering, or commitment to family, we all lose, most especially women.
Your choices affect me, and my choices affect you.
None of us live on an island. This is community and society and we are all intertwined. Choices matter, and when you make choices that hurt gender equality, I am hurt by that. All women, children and men are hurt by that. I am responsible to you, and vice versa.
I get the challenges. I appreciate very much that childcare is prohibitively expensive. I recoil at the fact that the United States has some of the worst maternal leave, child care, and health care policies when it comes to working parents. I work very hard in both my personal and professional lives to change that. I also understand very much the incredible social pressure to stay at home full time with children. This pressure is rooted in the misconception (some of the numerous relevant studies cited below) that this is what is best for children. I meet many women who make the decision to fully abandon their earning power and become dependent on husbands with genuine belief that this is what is good for their families. Many others leave the workforce because child care costs make employment unaffordable.
The United States needs vast policy change.
But votes and calls to legislators are not enough.
Each of us is called to make choices for our lives and families that aim for the greater good — including equality for all people. The more educated you are, the more money, access, privilege you have, the more responsibility you have to others to live a life that pushes the envelope for positive change in the world.
That includes working for money.
13 ways gender equality is hurt because women choose not to work
1. You model a stereotypical female roles, which informs your children, spouse, friends and neighbors
If you, woman, are home, your children equate housekeeping, child care and other unpaid ‘women's work' with women. They see their father, a man, earn in the world. That informs their ideas about gender and what is expected of women and men. That is why Harvard professor Kathleen McGinn found, in her study of 34,000 people across 24 countries, that girls raised by mothers who worked outside the home for pay, achieved more academically and grew up to be women who achieved more professionally and financially than their peers who had stay-at-home moms. Boys raised by working moms were more caring for children and older people living in the home than their SAHM peers, and grew up to be men who were the same — all while achieving as much academically and professionally as those raised by SAHMs. In short: kids grow up to be what they see.
2. Stay-at-home moms influence sexism in workplaces
Men — especially the white variety — still very much control corporate and government policy, and are far more likely to advocate for policy that supports working parents if they themselves share in family responsibility because their wives work, too. Researchers at Harvard, NYU and University of Utah found:
“Employed husbands in traditional marriages, compared to those in modern marriages, tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion.”
3. Stay-at-home moms hurt the economy
When you do not participate in the labor force, the world misses out on your unique talents
Recent headlines such as “Closing the gender gap could grow the economy by $2.1 trillion” (CNN) scream that the best way to grow the economy is to better engage women in the professional world. You consumed educational resources that were designed for the benefit of all of society. You worked hard to earn positions, raises or build a business. When you drop out for any significant period, all those collective skills and network are paused — or tossed out. That is a brain drain that we, as a society and world, cannot afford to lose.
4. The choice to stay home with children hurts the hiring and promotion of other women
Your departure from the workforce discourages managers and companies from hiring, training and promoting women since it sets the precedence that women of a certain age will just drop out indefinitely to have babies. Read: “Motherhood Penalty Affects Women Who Never Have a Child”(NBC).
5. Staying home with kids means you abandon the women who stay and fight for equality
My friend Maria, a divorced mom, has fought her way into an executive position at the male-dominated accounting industry where she's worked for 22 years. She told me: “Every time a woman in my company drops out to stay home and ‘be a mom,' I want to scream. I think, ‘I and every other woman in this big company need you to be here in these meetings and fight for them.' I feel let down and, frankly, abandoned. They left me here to fight alone.”
6. Stay-at-home moms shame working moms
Culturally, Americans believe children need stay-at-home moms. Pew found that 60 percent of Americans believe it is best for kids when a parent is home full-time, and a full 40 percent of Americans say that children are harmed (!) when mothers work outside the home. A full 70 percent of U.S. mothers work, and the majority of those who do not would like to work, but do not because child care is so prohibitive, studies find. The majority of moms who work do so because they need to eat, and their children need to eat — not because it is a lifestyle choice. In other words,
When women say, “I don't want to go back to work because I love my children,” that means, “I love my children more than you do. I am a better mom.” We all love our children. Here a very important fact you need to hear right now:
The University of Maryland’s very important meta-study, “How Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend with Children Matter?” found that for children ages 2 to 11, it makes no difference the number of hours a mother spends with her when it comes to the child’s academic or psychological success.
7. Stay-home moms perpetuate the myth that motherhood is enough to fulfill us
Instead, here are studies that show that mothers who work are happier and healthier, and less sad and angry, than their peers who work for pay. This is old news. Betty Friedan's 1963 blockbuster The Feminine Mystique established this five decades ago. We are having the exact emotion vs fact debate today. Let's move this conversation forward.
8. Stay-at-home moms are more prone to poverty
Whether you stay married for the rest of your life, divorce, or your spouse passes away before you do (statistically likely), you are more likely to be poor. A financial plan in which an entire family is dependent on one income is simply bad planning. After all, you know you should buy life insurance in the unlikely event that you or your partner dies. The chances of that happening are far, far lower than divorce, disability, illness or unemployment — all situations in which a second career could mean the difference between staying in your home or living out of your car. The fewer women living in poverty means good things for all women — and members of the world.
9. Women who do not work are less likely to be involved in family finances
Knowing everything about your household finances is critical in the event that you divorce, or otherwise are forced to manage the money in the absence of your spouse (he becomes disabled, unemployed, dies, is incarcerated or any other horrible things that happen every single day). One study found that women's involvement in household finances is directly proportionate to their contribution to family income. In other words, the more a woman contributes to the family finances, the more involved she is with managing them.
The more involved a woman is with managing money, the more security she and her whole family have. this contributes to making wiser, empowered decisions, and being safe in every sense of the word.
10. Women who do not earn their own money are more likely to suffer domestic violence
A full THIRD of U.S. women will be abuse victims at the hands of an intimate partner, and in 99 percent of those cases, financial abuse is part of the equation. You are in physical, emotional and sexual danger when you do not have your own money.
11. When you divorce, stay-at-home wives and moms are screwed
You have the same ~50 percent chance as the rest of us (though some studies suggest the divorce rate is higher in marriages when one spouse is financially dependent on the other) . Alimony reform is underway in every state, and while you may get short-term maintenance (think about that term: a man who you are no longer involved with is forced to maintain you), you are now expected to earn a living. Statistically women wind up poorer after divorce than men — typically because we have less earning power to start with. Take away any recent work experience, you are s-c-r-e-w-e-d. Read: Why you should never depend on alimony
The challenges for divorced women with no recent work history run deep. Want to keep your house in your name? Without two years work history, you can't get a mortgage. You also likely can't get a car loan or credit card with a decent interest rate. In short: the pay gap, wealth gap and women's choices overall plummet without earning power.
12. When women stop working, you have far fewer choices, and we all lose.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a woman’s earnings drop 30 percent after being out of the workforce for two to three years. This calculator created by the Center for American Progress projects the potential impact to a woman’s lifetime earnings when she takes a break mid-career. A 26-year-old woman earning $50,000 per year stands to lose more than $800,000 in wages, raises and retirement benefits over her lifetime when she steps off the career path for just five years. You also can't get a decent car loan or credit card or mortgage.
13. SAHMs' post-divorce / separation life is tumultuous
When you are in financial straits post-divorce/separation, you are understandably afraid, and acting in fear leads to bad decisions and poor behavior. Any family attorney or divorce court judge will tell you that terrified women and angry men then spend a lot of very contentious time and lots of money with lawyers and judges arguing over money. This conflict bleeds deeply into your co-parenting. It is impossible to share parenting time and decisions in a healthy way if you are duking it out in court. Your children suffer the most. These are the same children who were supposed to benefit from the countless hours you spent with them at home.
As a citizen, I am affected because courts are jammed up with petty arguing over custody and alimony, while actual abuse and neglect cases are marginalized. As a society, we all suffer, because statistically, when men are marginalized in custody cases — and they are in 80 percent of cases that go to court, in favor of giving mothers primary custody, despite 55 reviewed studies that prove that equally shared time with kids is best for children, once again following in those gender-stereotype — they tend to drop out of kids' lives all together. This is good for no one. Not you, not me, not the kids, dads or penal systems, which are full of kids who did not grow up with involved dads. Ladies, be part of the solution.
How to raise girls who are independent and strong
I keep hearing the same story again and again from professionally successful women. Variations on:
My grandma told me: “Always have your own money.”
It could be a mother, aunt, neighbor, Girl Scout leader, teacher, cousin, mentor or favorite coach.
What to teach girls about money
An older, respected woman looked her straight in the eye, and in her own but direct way said:
- “Do not ever depend on a man financially.”
- “Money is power, and never, ever give up that power.”
- “You are powerful. Never chose to give up that power.”
- “You are responsible for your own life.”
- “You are not a victim.”
- “I believe in you.”
Many of the women who tell me these stories are in their 40s, 50s and older, and their champions were women of a generation or two more senior than that. This is important because it is clear that women found ways to be financially independent — whether through work, or even squirreling away cash in their own name or shoebox in the back of a closet — even if they had but a fraction of the economic and career opportunity you and I enjoy.
They got it. And they made sure that the women who came after them got it, too.
Somehow, we have not collectively gotten it. By ‘it,' I mean the giant, enormous pressure for women to be stay-at-home moms and abandon their financial power, and therefore, their autonomy as adults.
The simple truth about the gender pay gap
There is a lot of pressure on women in the workforce to forsake their economic power en lieu of family.
Pew found that an astonishing 40 percent of Americans believe that children suffer when their mother works outside of the home. And study after study finds that the 21% gender paygap is a result not of rich white men in C-suits keeping competent women down, but rather women choosing to compromise their careers to care for loved ones. This pressure is so great that women who actually earn a living, falsely label themselves “stay-at-home moms.”
A recent project between my friend time management expert Laura Vanderkam and Redbook magazine found that 62% of described stay-at-home moms contributed to their household income, including 25% who run businesses. I know a blogger who earns $80,000 per year and calls herself a stay-at-home mom — a disconnect that is both common destructive, since it perpetuates the economically oppressive pressure to abandon our livelihoods and lives for our children and husbands.
Meanwhile, all research confirms: It makes zero difference how much time a parent spends with a kid after age 2, and the greatest indicators of a child's future wellbeing is her mother's education and income level.
Let us not forget: Working mothers are far less prone to depression and anxiety, and divorce rates are 50% higher for families in which one spouse does not work.
In other words: We glamorize stay-at-home moms, when science proves again and again that everyone is happier, healthier and more financially secure when both parents work.
After all: Divorce rates have been more or less steady at 50% for 40 years. The other 50% of couples? Unemployment, disability, death and other catastrophes mean a one-career family is a precarious financially agreement indeed. And when these families do divorce or separate, the new paradigm is likely to be very sexist indeed, with the mom having primary care of the kids, and being financially dependent on her ex's child support and/or alimony payments. Which is why I wrote this guide on how to divorce like a feminist.
Listen to my podcast episode on this topic:
Breaking the cycle of the wage gap
So this is what you will do to make sure we break this cycle of women sabotaging their own wellbeing, and that of their children, marriage and for women and society overall:
You will identify a girl. Maybe it is your daughter, or granddaughter. Niece, student, mentee or neighbor. She might be 6 or 16 or a young woman of 26. You will tell her with zero nuance or caveat:
Always have your own money.
Never give up your ability to earn.
You are not an adult if you chose to be financially dependent on another person.
In my research, I have found it only takes telling a young person this critical message one time. The message taps into such a primal, visceral need for freedom, power and independence, even very young girls understand it intuitively.
But do not tell her just one time. Tell her again and again. Like you make sure your child knows to be kind, and say thank you and not to chew with her mouth open. Just as you make sure that young people know how to swim and must eat vegetables, this is a non-negotiable.
Knowing this shapes the life decisions you make
Because when a child is raised to reap the magnificent bounty that is the education, professional, political and financial equality that women in this country in 2018 enjoy, and understand that she will never, ever chart her own course in this world until she embraces it as her duty to exercise it in its fullest, you set her on a certain course. On the right course. It is a course that affects every single vertical of her life:
- The choices she makes in where she attends college, and how she will pay for it (because when you are wise about your education and related finances, and do not assume that a man will take care of you and your debt eventually, you make better choices).
- The career path she pursues.
- The relationships she forges with friends and colleagues (because these are the spine of her entire life).
- The money she does and does not spend on fun.
- The money she does and does not invest.
- The partner she selects (or rejects).
- The children she choses to have (or not).
- The age she chooses to become a mother.
- The way she sees herself in the world, the value she brings to her partner, her children, friends, and the world around her.
By saying: “Always have your own money,” to a girl you are saying:
“You are powerful. And I believe that you will never, ever give up that power.”
She gets it. She will thank you. And women everywhere, forever, will thank you.
Did an older woman inspire you to always have your own money? Share your important story in the comments.
How SAHMs can find high-paid work-at-home jobs
Looking for a real career that you can do from home, full- or part-time? Thanks to technology and a changing work culture that values parents and is happy to offer flexible, temp, telecommute, remote and other work-at-home opportunities, there are countless quality, legit jobs and careers that pay well, and also provide the flexibility to spend time with your family, working out, build a side gig, or otherwise enjoy life.
In fact, working from home tops my gratitude list most days, as it has allowed me to devote concentrated sums of time building a business that I love, pays well, and allows me to spend as much (or little! Let's e real here!) time with my kids as I need to.
This is my list of top, high-paying careers that you can do from home.
The list includes: programmer / coder, graphic designer, translator, virtual assistant, social media manager, corporate event and travel planner, bookkeeper, child care provider, blogger and grant writer.
My favorite job board for moms is FlexJobs — the leading job site specifically for telecommuting, part-time, flexible-time, online, work from home, and other alternative work arrangements that make such a big difference in families’ lives.
FlexJobs was started by Sara Sutton-Fell, a real-life mom who wanted to work from home, earn a good living, and spend time with her family.
Quick facts about FlexJobs:
- Huge database of screened and vetted (no scams!) temp, part-time, full-time, remote, online and other work-at-home jobs. At time of writing, FlexJobs posted:
- 32,686 positions
- 5,594 hiring companies
- Extremely reputable:
- Better Business Bureau A+ rating
- Appearances in the Oprah magazine, Inc., Good Morning America, USAToday, Washington Post, New York Times, and Wealthysinglemommy.com ;)
- Every company in FlexJob's database has been screened by hand, and found to be legitimate.
- Job posts and featured hiring companies are hand-vetted by FlexJobs employees. Many of the postings are by Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 jobs.
- Affordable pricing:
- $14.95 / month
- $29.95 / quarter
- $49.95 / year
- 100% satisfaction guarantee — cancel anytime, and get a refund if you are not happy with the job selection
- Easy-to-use site
- Go to FlexJobs.com (use promo code FLEXLIFE)
- Browse for free
- When you become a member, you can create a profile, upload a resume, and interact directly with hiring managers
- FlexJobs suggests postings for you based on your preferences and resume
- Search by newest postings
If you need fast, extra cash (not necessarily a new job or career), here is my list of 101 ways to make extra cash, quick. Advice includes easy ways to sell things you have, the best online survey companies, online English tutoring, and rent stuff you own, like your home or car.
Related post on gender equality and divorce
Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.