Kristin Maschka is 33 years old, has a master's degree in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Chicago and is a former four-time All-American basketball player. Until a little more than a year ago, she had a successful career as manager of training and development at EarthLink, an Internet Service Provider, where she worked 60-hour weeks and earned $80,000 a year.
Last year, she gave it all up to stay home with her newborn daughter and she has no intention of going back to work anytime soon. â€œI really, really loved my work,â€? says Maschka, speaking from her Pasadena, Calif., home. But she and her husband, an attorney who routinely works 80 hours a week, decided that if she went back to work after Kate was born, â€œthere would not be enough parenting time to go around for what we thought she needed.â€?
Maschka fits perfectly the profile of a group of women who have reversed a trend that had been building steadily for 25 years. Last fall, the Census Bureau released a report showing that â€” for the first time since it began tracking this indicator in 1976 â€” the percentage of mothers who have infant children and who are in the work force fell, from a record high 59 percent in 1998 to 55 percent in 2000.
The decrease was concentrated among women who are most likely to be in a position to take time off from earning an income: older mothers, between the ages of 30 and 44; married women living with their husbands and women with at least one year of college. (See chart, page 39.) By contrast, there was no significant decline among younger mothers (under age 30). And among African American mothers and those who did not graduate high school, there were slight increases between 1998 and 2000 in the percentage of mothers who had infants and were working.
The women staying home with their children â€œmust be feeling economically secure enough to drop out [of the work force] at least temporarily,â€? says Howard Hayghe, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). â€œI can't imagine that this [drop] is going to extend into the lower economic classes,â€? and especially to single mothers, who have no other source of income.
Still, enough women are leaving the labor force to reverse the trend for the whole category of mothers with infants. And although their total number is not huge â€” there were 3.9 million mothers with babies under the age of 1 in 2000 â€” they constitute a formidable segment of the market. They wield a disproportionate influence over the nation's economy, culture and societal values â€” not to mention their own family's spending habits and priorities.
The 40 percent of women giving birth each year who are having their first child, â€œare an important segment to watch,â€? says Martin O'Connell, co-author of the report, â€œFertility of American Women, 2000,â€? which is based on the June 2000 supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS). â€œPatterns developed during first pregnancy and birth have important implications for future consumer spending and future labor force participation,â€? says O'Connell.
O'Connell believes the drop in work force participation by new mothers reflects a general â€œplateauingâ€? in the labor force among certain groups of women throughout the late 1990s. â€œWomen were delaying childbearing, so they were working more, and they were building up more resources,â€? says O'Connell. This, combined with their husbands' salaries, provided these better educated, older, more affluent women with the financial resources to take time off after giving birth, he says.
The '90s also witnessed a â€œtremendous economy,â€? says O'Connell, that â€œseemed like it would never end. The expectations were you would find a job with ease.â€? So women thought, â€œâ€˜If I take off six months or a year, it'll be easy to find another job or go back to the one I had.â€™ It seemed like there was never-ending opportunity,â€? he says.
Of course, now that the economy has slowed down considerably, the question remains whether the data uncovered in the June 2000 survey will turn out to be a temporary aberration from an otherwise steady rise in mothers' employment, or the beginning of a new trend. The answer to that question may depend on whether the dip seen in 2000 is indeed just a result of booming economic times, or a reflection of deeper social shifts.
Mothers & More is an 8,000-member national group, based in Elmhurst, Ill., composed of women from this older, better educated, more financially secure set who chose to stay home with their children. Actually, says Catherine Carbone Rogers, the organization's spokesperson, many of these women feel they had no choice. â€œEither take the career you've invested 10 years in and chuck it, or never see your kid,â€? is the way she puts it. â€œSo it's not a choice,â€? she adds. â€œMany of us feel forcedâ€? into staying home.
It's more of a values-based decision â€” a desire to raise their children in a particular fashion â€” than a purely economic one, says Rogers. In a 1998 survey of its membership taken by Mothers & More, an overwhelming majority of respondents â€” 89 percent â€” cited â€œI wanted to raise my children myselfâ€? as the No. 1 reason they chose to stay home with their offspring. In fact, many of the members of the group make financial sacrifices in order to stay home, Rogers says, even if they may not seem like dramatic ones to many Americans.
Maschka, the stay-at-home mom in Pasadena, acknowledges that her family can live â€œcomfortablyâ€? on her husband's $125,000 annual salary. â€œAt the same time,â€? she says, the $80,000 salary that she gave up was â€œa lot of money.â€? She and her husband have cut back on eating out, concerts and clothes. They've become more budget-conscious in their grocery shopping and they haven't taken a vacation since their daughter was born. Maschka also says they would own a larger home if she were still working.
Still, whatever social trends are at work, the downturn in the economy may help undo some of this mini-trend. BLS data shows that, consistent with the recent CPS information, work force participation on the part of married women with children under the age of 1 dipped slightly from 56.8 percent in the third quarter of 1998 to 56.3 percent in the same quarter of 1999. That figure dropped to 52.3 percent in third quarter 2000, but then began to climb to 54 percent for the 2001 third quarter.
â€œThis suggests that the notion that [the drop in labor force participation] was at least partly economically motivated has some validity,â€? says Hayghe. Results for the third quarter 2001 show that, in contrast to 2000, more mothers may be feeling that they can't afford to leave the work force to stay home with their babies, he adds.
Vicky Lovell, study director for the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, D.C., believes that the 1998 to 2000 period studied by the Census Bureau's report represented â€œa very unusual period in the American economy, a very unusual period of boom times.â€?
And despite the drop in work force participation among the better educated and more affluent, 64 percent of college-educated mothers of infants are still in the labor force, compared with only 55 percent for those who graduated high school and 39 percent for those who didn't finish high school.
Lovell believes that the 2000 figures for work force participation in fact reflect a â€œbalancing out.â€? In 1994, the rate for women with infants stood at 53 percent, rose to 59 percent in 1998, and then dropped back to 55 percent in 2000. â€œMarried, better educated women staying home â€” I'm not at all convinced that's happening overall,â€? she says. â€œIt's hard to see where the trend is going.â€?
Now that the economy is in a recession, many families will respond by having both the husband and wife working, adds Lovell. At the same time, she says, the World Trade Center attacks may have the opposite effect on families.
â€œIn the wake of Sept. 11, there is an ongoing fear and anxiety and a new emphasis on spending time with family,â€? says Lovell. This may inspire more women to stay home with their children, despite economic concerns. â€œThere's a nesting instinct going on, and a decline in travel. This is all encouraging people to stay closer to home.â€?
It may take another year or two to see in which direction mothers are heading.
WHAT DO MOTHERS WANT?
The increase in the number of mothers of infants who are choosing to stay home with their children is most pronounced among older, married, well-educated and affluent women. What are these women looking for in goods and services and how can marketing executives best reach them?
Catherine Carbone Rogers, spokesperson for a large group of these women, Mothers & More, emphasizes that â€œthese are women who take the formal and informal education of their children very seriously. So products and services aimed at early childhood developmentâ€? will appeal to them. With some newfound time on their hands, they are also into personal growth. â€œThey want to develop their skills and nurture themselves during this time,â€? says Rogers. Books and physical fitness programs are proving popular with this group.
Lisa Johnson, co-owner of Reach Women, a consulting firm based in Eugene, Ore., says these women are most attracted to what they perceive as high quality, in everything from nutrition to clothing to baby paraphernalia. They can generally afford to pay more, although since many gave up earning an income to stay home, they are going to be â€œwilling to pay the price, not on everything, but on certain things,â€? says Johnson.
â€œAmong moms choosing to stay home, there's more diligence around nutrition,â€? she adds. These women tend to go for organic or soy-based baby foods. â€œThey look at their own health concerns and translate that to their children.â€?
The same holds true for other products. â€œRetailers with established brand names among women extend to children's accessoriesâ€? and find great success, says Johnson. The sleek black diaper bags made by Jones New York and Nine West â€œare the perfect interpretation of what these women want,â€? she says. â€œBaby Gap totally gets it. These are traditional, well-respected brands that mirror adult designs. These women go to brands that represent quality and cool, brands they're comfortable with.â€?
For Kristin Maschka, a former Internet executive who is at home with her 1-year-old daughter, time is the key to unlocking her wallet. â€œAnything that saves me time is going to catch my attention,â€? says the 33-year-old Pasadena, Calif., resident. â€œPampers started their disposable bibs â€” I'm their No. 1 customer. They save me having to clean off plastic bibs.â€?
As for dinner preparation, anything that makes life easier will win points with Maschka. â€œWhen I was pressed for time when [my husband and I] were both working full-time, we'd go out for dinner,â€? she says. Now she looks for easy meals to make at home.
True to form, Maschka admits she â€œover analyzes every purchase. I'm looking hard. If I see that it's of value to [the baby] and saves us time,â€? she'll buy it.
Coleen Carignan, a physician in Pittsburgh who is now home with her 21-month-old son, Henry, finds herself doing more catalog and TV shopping than she ever thought she would. â€œDragging a toddler through a store is like a scene from the WWF [World Wrestling Federation],â€? she says.
Carignan, 35, is also less focused on clothes and jewelry than
she used to be. â€œI'm buying more things for the kitchen. I
just bought a steam cleaner for the floor,â€? she says. The
traditional mop and bucket wasn't working because Henry â€œwas
always getting into the bucket.â€?
After steadily rising for years, labor force participation among women with infants under age 1 dropped in 2000. That year, there were 3.9 million mothers with infants, 55.2 percent of whom were working.
|NUMBER OF MOMS W/INFANTS||PERCENT WHO ARE WORKING||NUMBER OF MOMS W/INFANTS||PERCENT WHO ARE WORKING||NUMBER OF MOMS W/INFANTS||PERCENT WHO ARE WORKING||NUMBER OF MOMS W/INFANTS||PERCENT WHO ARE WORKING|
|Second or higher order birth||2,308||53.5%||2,181||57.3%||2,242||48.9%||2,374||48.4%|
|RACE AND ETHNICITY|
|Asian and Pacific Islander||154||56.3%||138||49.9%||112||37.7%||101||48.0%|
|Hispanic (of any race)||761||41.8%||618||45.7%||644||37.7%||491||43.8%|
|Married â€” husband present||2,561||54.1%||2,424||59.5%||2,748||54.5%||2,826||56.4%|
|Not a high school graduate||920||39.0%||793||37.7%||832||33.5%||816||31.5%|
|High school, 4 years||1,204||55.0%||1,034||58.4%||1,303||48.1%||1,588||51.9%|
|College, 1 or more years||1,810||63.5%||1,844||67.9%||1,754||66.2%||1,509||65.3%|
|LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION (IN THOUSANDS) AMONG
MOTHERS AGE 15 TO 44 WITH INFANTS.
SOURCE: U.S. CENSUS BUREAU
STAYING AT HOME WITH BABY
Mothers with children under the age of 1 work the least â€” in the labor force, that is.
|TOTAL NUMBER||LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATE||NUMBER IN LABOR FORCE|
|Total women (age 16 and above)||108.9 million||60.2%||65.6 million|
|With children ages 6-17||19.6 million||78.7%||15.4 million|
|With children under 6||16.0 million||64.6%||10.3 million|
|With children under 3||9.4 million||60.4%||5.7 million|
|With children under 1||3.3 million||54.6%||1.8 million|
|NOTE: ANNUAL AVERAGE FOR 2000
SOURCE: CURRENT POPULATION SURVEY, BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS