Married-Couple Family Groups with Stay at Home Parents

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Married-Couple Family Groups with Stay at Home Parents


By: Jason Fields

Date: November 2004

Source: Adapted by Thomson Gale from: Fields, Jason. U.S. Census Bureau. "America's Families and Living Arrangements: Married-Couple Family Groups With Stay at Home Parents." November 2004. 〈〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

About the Author: Jason Fields is a family demographer and a member of the Fertility and Family Statistics Branch in the Population Division of the United States Census Bureau. The U.S. Census Bureau was established to conduct the ten-year census needed to reallocate members of Congress among the states. As of 2006, the agency employs 12,000 and conducts approximately one hundred annual surveys annually in addition to the Census itself.


Over the past half century, the typical American home has become increasingly difficult to describe. Whereas the vast majority of families in the nineteenth century consisted of two married parents and multiple children, today's families come in numerous varieties, and it has become increasingly difficult to regard any one form of family as typical.

Both cultural and medical changes have influenced this trend toward more diverse families; men and women today are more likely to postpone marriage while completing higher education. The widespread availability of inexpensive, reliable birth control has also allowed families to choose when to have children, or in some cases to forego parenthood entirely. Rising divorce rates have fueled the growth of single-parent households, and remarriages, sometimes after multiple previous marriages, have resulted in a growing population of blended families incorporating pieces of multiple previous homes.

A significant change in American attitudes occurred during the twentieth century, as women became more accepted in the workplace and husbands became less hostile to the idea of wives working. From the early 1900s to the end of the century, women moved from being an anomaly in most businesses to holding top positions in some of America's largest corporations, aided at least in part by the mass entry of women into the workforce during World War II. While most of these wartime workers returned to more traditional roles following the war, their experience gave many Americans a taste of what women could do when given the chance.

In the decades following the war, more opportunities became available to women, and a growing number chose to leave home and take outside jobs, either part-time or full-time. These opportunities, combined with falling childbirth rates and smaller families led to a gradual increase in the number of two-income families in which both parents are employed outside the home.

Despite the benefits of receiving two incomes, some families choose to live on a single income, with the other spouse remaining at home. In some families this is a transitional arrangement, maintained only while the children are small; but in other cases families choose to depend on a single earner. Because of the economic implications of living on only one income, the Census Bureau asked specific questions of these stay-at-home parents in order to better understand the reasons for their choice.



See primary source image.


Not surprisingly, parents choose to remain at home for a variety of reasons. In the 2003 study, respondents reported staying at home due to injury, illness, or disability, while attending school, because of retirement, or due to an inability to find employment. One clear finding of the study was that men and women stay home for different reasons. In the case of men, more than forty-five percent reported staying at home due to illness or disability; for women the figure for this category was less than five percent. In comparison, men reported staying home to care for family 15.6 percent of the time, compared to more than eighty-eight percent of women who chose this response. This disparity, with women five times more likely to report staying home to care for family, suggests that despite greater workplace opportunities than ever before, women are still more likely to be the primary caregivers for children in the home.

A second finding of the study dealt with income levels and the decision to work. Fully fifty percent of the families in which the mother remained at home had an annual household income above $50,000, and more than twenty percent had incomes of $100,000 or more. This relationship suggests that staying at home

Married-couple family groups with stay-at-home parents: 2003
(in thousands)
- Represents zero or rounds to zero.
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2003.
All married-couple family groups with children under 15 years old23,209100.023,209100.0
Labor force participation last year and stay-at-home parent families
   In labor force 1 or more weeks last year16,37170.522,19995.6
   Out of labor force all 52 weeks last year6,83829.51,0094.3
     Primary reason out of the labor force
        Going to school2271.0900.4
        Could not find work1050.51110.5
        To care for home and family6,03626.01570.7
          Spouse in labor force all 52 weeks last year5,38823.2980.4
        Stay-at-home family groups5,388100.098100.0
          Type of family group
          Family household5,27697.99495.9
          Related subfamily1102.065.1
          Unrelated subfamily20.0-0.0
        Number of own children under 15
          1 child1,64830.63636.7
          2 children2,22641.35051.0
          3 children1,06319.766.1
          4 or more children4518.466.1
        Presence of children
          With own children under 155,388100.098100.0
          With own children under 124,88390.68586.7
          With own children under 63,49164.85051.0
          With own children under 32,25441.82828.6
          With own children under 172413.477.1
        Age of stay-at-home parent
          15 to 24 years2875.344.1
          25 to 34 years1,79533.32525.5
          35 to 44 years2,37944.24646.9
          45 to 54 years81815.21919.4
          55 to 64 years971.844.1
          65 years and over120.2-0.0
        Family income in 2002
          Under $10,0001262.366.1
          $100,00 and over1,08920.299.2
        Poverty status in 2002
          Below poverty level66812.41313.3
          At or above poverty level4,72087.68586.7

is far more common in affluent homes and that lower-income families are less able to afford the loss of income caused by a stay-at-home parent.

A final observation from the data is that stay-at-home mothers don't appear to actually stay at home all the time. Only 29.5 percent of responding mothers said they had been out of the workforce for the entire fifty-two weeks of the previous year, while the remaining 70.5 percent have worked outside the home at least one week during that time. This data paints a picture of stay-at-home mothers who devote almost all their time to caring for family but who also hold part-time jobs from time to time.

While stay-at-home dads remain the exception, with fewer than five percent of fathers staying at home for all of the previous fifty-two weeks, some research suggests that a small but growing number of men are choosing to care for the children while their wives work outside the home. Given the increasing earnings potential enjoyed by women today and a wider variety of family forms currently in existence, this trend appears likely to continue.



Gill, Libby. Stay-at-Home Dads: The Essential Guide to Creating the New Family. New York: The Penguin Group, 2001.

Peters, Joan. When Mothers Work: Loving Our Children Without Sacrificing Ourselves. New York: Perseus Books, 1997.

Ramming, Cindy. All Mothers Work: A Guilt-Free Guide for the Stay at Home Mom. New York: Avon Books, 1996.


Chaker, Marie. "Business Schools Target At-Home Moms." Wall Street Journal—Eastern Edition 247 (2006): D1-D2.

Jayson, Sharon. "Daddy's Home to Stay." USA Today (June 16, 2005): D1.

"Stepping off the Mommy Track." Money 35 (2006): 40.

Web sites

CNN. "The stay-at-home generation." May 25, 2005. 〈〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

Columbia University News Service. "Stay-at-home Mothers Grow in Number." June 23, 2003. 〈〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

Washington Times. "More and More Men Decide to Be Stay-at-home Fathers." April 24, 2001. 〈〉 (accessed July 22, 2006).

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Married-Couple Family Groups with Stay at Home Parents

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