Moms are suddenly dropping out of the workforce. Why?

working moms dropout rate women

Over the past 15 years, labor market participation for U.S. women in their prime working years has been on a steady decline, reversing the growth trend of the previous 20 years. WHAT IS UP WITH THAT?!

Betsy Smith

Betsy Smith, entrepreneuer and mom

In this Working Moms Mean Business episode, BBVA Compass economist Amanda Augustine, co-author of a recent study analyzing the shift, explains why this is happening, why you should care, and what can be done to reverse it. Also, my friend Betsy Smith shares about her journey from staff employee, to fulltime stay-at-home mom, to corporate worker, to a successful entrepreneuer earning multiple six-figures.

Notable points of the BBVA study:

  • In 2015, the United States was the only Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development member country where this downward shift was happening.
  • Married moms with a household income of less than $50,000 were more likely to stay home full time with children, while those with a household income of up to $200,000 were more likely to work, because they could afford child care.
  • White mothers of young children are more likely to stop working or scale back because they tend to be in positions where more flexible schedules can be negotiated.
  • Black mothers with young children have the lowest income of the races studied in the report, and the highest workforce participation rate. Why? Black mothers, as well as Asian mothers, had the highest likelihood of an older person (such as a grandparent available for babysitting) also living in the home.
  • Policies that allow women to re-enter the workforce in significant numbers, the report suggests, would improve wages and the economy for everyone.

This is part of a very special podcast series, Working Moms Mean Business. 


Explore the 10 special Working Moms Mean Business podcast episodes here.

working mom guilt

Read or download the free (mega) book written by me: Free from Guilt: Why Moms Have it, and How to Conquer It,which is all about why so many of us struggle with being working moms, even though most of us need to work to live, and science says kids, families, marriage, society and moms thrive when we work. 



Other episodes in the series:

Dealing with the staggering costs of child care

Rachel Cruze: #blessed vs BLESSED

How moms can be killer at business and MOMMING 

Are breadwinner moms good for families?

Can moms close the gender gap in STEM fields?

Samantha Ettus: Stop feeling guilty, work is good for you

Fact: Working moms are good for kids — Stop the guilt! 

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour,, 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.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. Georgia on April 14, 2017 at 6:03 am

    I am a full-time working mother who would prefer to stay home but I have to say, these statistics don’t exactly ring true to me. “Married moms with a household income of $50,000 or less are more likely to stay home..” That sounds backwards…it seems more likely to me that the family income may be $50K or less BECAUSE they made the decision for the wife to stay home. And it hardly requires a $200K income to afford childcare, but I suppose if I had a job that paid me $100K I would be somewhat less anxious to leave it.

    • Megan on May 12, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      I think number of kids factors into the causation equation. If mom’s salary is, say $24,000, and they have even just 2 kids daycare aged (figure an infant and 2 or 3 year old), then nearly her entire net salary is going to (a cheap) daycare. If there are 3 kids in daycare, mom’s spending more than earning. (That does NOT mean I believe mom should stay home – there are numerous factors involved.) Yes, that does mean that instead of having a $74,000 household income, they have a $50,000 household income, but it’s still lower earnings that could be the driving factor of mom staying home.
      Some of you might feel $24,000 is unrealistically low, but I’m in the Midwest, so it’s really not. That’s actually higher than the living wage for a single person without dependents, and single living wage is the predominant entry level wage for solid local companies.
      About me? I’m a single-therefore-working-full-time mom. If I won the lottery, I would totally take a few years off (my son is 2) to “stay home” (do all the super fun kid stuff only available during business hours) and then find work I’m more passionate about. But I don’t play the lottery. :) I’m raising my earning potential and making the most of evenings and weekends.

  2. Vanessa on May 12, 2018 at 6:22 am

    Gosh, I dropped out 15 years ago except I still sold a house on occasion and was a landlord the whole time. Two sets of child care bills made it untenable and honestly, I did not have the physical strength left to do “it all,” Even now, when neither child needs me, I hesitate to return to work. I temped last year for two months and found a 40-hour-week cost me 55 hours of time, was controlling in unpleasant ways and led to three head colds which I rarely have normally. All for not much money. It is hard to be interested in going back and becoming an employee again although with a pending divorce I may have to suck it up, I’d rather skip it.

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