Ninety percent of highly educated mothers work outside the home, but for the small number of women with advanced degrees who stay home, it may be less of a choice to be with their children and more of a reflection of the workplace.
One in 10 women with an advanced degree is opting to stay home with her children, according to a report from the Pew Research Center.
These women who have received a Master’s degree or Ph.D. but choose to focus on mothering make up only 1 percent of the total population of mothers in the United States, and only 4 percent of stay-at-home moms. To be considered an "opt-out mother," the women in the study all are financially stable enough not to need a second income.
Another Pew study found that the majority of American mothers would prefer to work part-time, rather than stay home or work full-time. But for those whose annual family income was less than $50,000, 40 percent said they would prefer to work full-time, compared to 25 percent of women with family incomes over $50,000. While money concerns seem to be a major factor in why mothers want to continue working, a chance to use their education and to create change and become leaders in the economy are also motivating factors.
In a 2003 New York Times article, columnist and mother Lisa Belkin examined the choices of many women who had achieved career success and then left the field to become mothers.
Belkin called the trend “The Opt-Out Revolution.”
Many women who opted out found that they could not compete in the workforce and still be a nurturer to their children. Katherine Brokaw, a Princeton graduate and one of the mothers Belkin interviewed, was spending 15-hour days putting together cases for her law firm. Eventually, she realized that she could not dedicate herself fully to her job or her family, which is when she decided to stay home.
''I wish it had been possible to be the kind of parent I want to be and continue with my legal career,'' she told Belkin, ''but I wore myself out trying to do both jobs well.''
Trying to maintain a family and a job is a difficult balancing act, and the workforce has no mercy for mothers who are trying to do it all. The United States is one of the few nations in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave, according to a Think Progress article.
A study from the Center of Work-Life Policy found that 69 percent of the “highly qualified” women who left their careers said that they would not have quit had their workplaces offered better arrangements to allow them to work and raise a family.
Some women opt out of working for the first few years of their child’s life and then plan to return to work once the child enters school. However, according to Forbes writer Deborah Jacobs, factors including rapidly changing technology, the recent recession and a lack of professional experience make it difficult for stay-at-home moms to return to their careers.
Whether they leave because they want to dedicate more time to their children or because their career prevents them from spending adequate time with their families, the women who opt out of the workforce choose to devote their energy to being mothers.
“(My son) was growing up, and I was driving home from a fire,'' Sally Sears, a Princeton-educated journalist, told Belkin. ''I knew there would always be wrecks and fires, but there wouldn't always be his childhood.''
Emily Hales is an intern on the national team, covering issues facing families in the United States. She is a communications major at Brigham Young University.