I wrote this post some weeks ago. It's delayed, because I contacted the Pew researchers for further information. I never got it, so here is the post, just in time for the US Mothers' Day.
The recent Pew survey on the percentage of mothers (with children under eighteen) who are now stay-at-home mothers begins:
After Decades of Decline, a Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers
The rest of the long report is mostly about the details behind that sentence. Except, my friends, the details turn out fuzzy for some very boring reasons. Here's the first boring reason:
What that beginning really should have said is this:
After Decades of Decline, a Rise in Women Not Having Paid Work Who Also Have Children Under Eighteen.
That looks like I replaced a clear sentence with researchy gobbledegook, though that's not so. To see why, note that the mothers in this survey can be single mothers, the mothers in this study can be married to a partner who also has no paid work (which could make that partner into yet another stay-at-home-parent), and the mothers in this survey can have all sorts of reasons for why they don't have a job in the labor market. Some of those reasons are that they can be enrolled in school, too sick to work or unable to find paid employment.
They can also state that they are at home because they are taking care of their minor children, and the majority of the mothers without paid employment surveyed by Pew do give that answer. But all those other answers could have been given by women (or men) who don't have children under eighteen at home, too. Thus, it's the presence of children at home that is being used to distinguish between different groups of adults here.
For many valid purposes this doesn't matter. But it matters greatly if we are going to analyze these findings against the background of the cultural debates about proper gender roles and about the question whether mothers of young children should stay at home or not.