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Number of at-home mothers on the rise

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NEW YORK – The rising cost of child care is among likely reasons for a rise in the number of women staying home full-time with their children, according to a new Pew Research Center report released Tuesday.

Other factors cited by Pew to explain the increase include more immigrant mothers, who tend to stay home with children in greater numbers than U.S.-born moms; more women unable to find work; and ambivalence about the impact of working mothers on young children.

The share of mothers who do not work outside the home rose to 29 percent in 2012, the study found. That’s up from 23 percent at the turn of the century, according to the report. At the height of the recession in 2008, Pew estimated 26 percent of mothers were home with children.

The at-home moms include women who are married, single, disabled, enrolled in school or unable to find work.

Pew cited a 2010 U.S. census report that singled out the expense of child care as a factor.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, the average weekly child care expense for families with working mothers who paid for child care rose more than 70 percent, from $87 in 1985 to $148 in 2011, according to government estimates. That represented 7.2 percent of the income for such families.

Tricia Williamson, 30, in Liberty, N.C., quit her job as an editor and producer at a TV station after crunching the numbers and realizing her salary after the birth of her son a year ago would go primarily to commuting and child care expenses. Her husband earns about $44,000 a year as an electronics technician.

“We’re not rich by any means. We live paycheck to paycheck, but it’s completely worth it,” she said. “My son wouldn’t be getting the attention he needs one-on-one. He’s got mom 24-7.”

The largest share of at-home mothers – roughly two-thirds of 10.4 million – had working husbands. A growing share – 6 percent in 2012, up from 1 percent in 2000 – said they could not find a job, according to Pew, which relied on U.S. Census and other government data.

No matter what their marital status, mothers at home are younger and less educated than working counterparts, the report said.

Most married moms said they were home specifically to care for the kids, while single mothers were more likely to say they couldn’t find a job, were ill or disabled, or were in school.

Among all at-home mothers in 2012, 51 percent had at least one child 5 or younger, compared with 41 percent of working mothers.

The researchers said one of the most striking demographic differences between at-home mothers and working mothers is their economic well-being, with about 34 percent of at-home mothers living in poverty, compared with 12 percent of working mothers.

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