The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute

Subscribe to the blog

Discussion: (43 comments)

  1. RonRonDoRon

    I used to work for a fellow who had a PhD in finance/econ. His wife had a Masters in engineering, but was staying home with their two daughters and homeschooling them.

    At the time, I thought this was highly unusual – apparently not.

  2. Catherine Cox

    Hoho! Those moms would include me. A couple of observations: High-achieving mothers with high-achieving husbands are more likely to feel financially able to stay home. And, coupled with that, is the fact that no woman can know in advance how baby love will affect her. Before motherhood, I would never have dreamed that I’d want to stay home with my kids. After babies, my previous ambitions lost their allure. Of course, many of the women who feel that don’t then have a choice.

    1. Florida resident

      Dear Ms. Cox:
      It is a great honor — to be able to address you personally.
      During my short look at Joni Hirsch’s paper in question I did not notice the category of
      “husband’s type / education”.
      R. Herrnsein’s 1973 book “IQ in the Meritocracy”,
      emphasises the phenomenon of assortive mating, including that by elite. Sure, your esteemed husband discussed this phenomenon many times since.
      Serious research should take this phenomenon into account.
      With invariable respect to you and your family,

  3. Best parenting choice we ever made was mother stays at home and raises the kids. My wife insisted on it.

  4. Flora Kan

    There could be a simple explanation. Women who went to elite schools are likely to have boyfriends and hence husbands also from elite schools. These husbands earn high incomes and can afford to live well on one income. Therefore, mothers from elite schools can afford to stay at home and devote their attention to their children.

    1. Florida resident

      I agree 100%.

    2. See paragraph 5.

      1. Florida resident

        Dear Greg:
        You are talking about paragraph 5 of the Murray’s post.
        I am talking about the original article by Joni Hersch.
        Your F.r.

    3. Maybe they went to the elite school looking for a husband meeting their criteria.

  5. This is certainly the case with us. My wife and I each have several degrees, at least one of which comes from the so-called ‘elite’ schools (Barron’s highest selectivity). She stays home and homeschools our (6) kids.

  6. Or are the people who get into tier 1 schools dominated by trust fund kids with an easy-in, or the relevant parental push need to be motivated to get into the school? Just get an education to meet a husband? Education is paid for so why spent time working to pay it back?

  7. These sub-trends provide more ammunition to the “personal choice” explanatory component of the gender wage gap (especially at the top). It is not that a significant percentage of college educated women take time off, but this choice is effecting the earning power of those most likely to earn more.

  8. LeisureGuy

    Just to repeat what many others have noted.

    Tier 1 moms generally marry Tier 1 husbands. A single Tier 1 salary can support a family. 30 years of free-market governance means both lower tier parents moms work lest there be not enough money for food and rent. Additionally, the prosperity brought to lower Tier folks by the 30 years means many men lack the sort of stable jobs needed to hear up a family.

    C’mon lower tiers! Where’s that old cheer for 30 years of Reagan free market governance?

    1. sardonic_sob

      s/free\ market\ governance/rampant\ inflation


    2. So where is this non free market governance creating prosperity?

  9. ch hoffman

    those women who are highly educated, went to the best schools, and managed to mate with the most successful or well-bred (wealthy) men are opting to stay home with their children.

    it is only those women who must work in order to pay the bills, whose husbands (if they have any) are not at the top of the economic pyramid, and whose lives are not awash in the indulgence of others are forced by economic necessity to work while their kids are left in the care of others.

    hard to believe, but economic power translates into personal fulfillment so very often

    1. So true. So study hard, get married and don’t get divorced!

  10. Sad how those women who went/go to the best schools (including me) are not given credit for doing so….my parents were not college educated (my father barely finished 8th grade), and they pushed me to study hard to achieve more for myself. That option is still available to all today. But we couldn’t possibly promote that scenario, as it is so antithetical to the class/social warfare preferred by some. And yes, I worked part-time when my children came along, as they continue to be my most important achievement….

    1. Apparently you didn’t get the memo. ANY form of personal success stemming from hard work and a good reputation is now equal to ‘privilege’ and/or racism.

  11. I’m not sure why some commenters are reaching the conclusion that only those with the elite educations are able to have a parent stay home with children. While their percentage is higher, it’s only an 8% difference with mothers who didn’t go to elite colleges. It’s a significant difference, but clearly there are still many without the “elite” education who find a way to have a parent at home if that’s what they wish. My husband and I fit this description, as do many of our extended family members, including those living on a single income around $40,000. It requires sacrifice but can be possible for those who desire that path.

  12. Why is everyone commenting on the presumed income of the husband/father allowing the wife/mother a choice?

    The reason to invest in an expensive college is because there is an expectation of greater career opportunities for such graduates. To win through the Sorting Machine and then CHOOSE to drop out says something very strange about the presumptions of a gender neutral workforce. It appears that human females, given a choice, really do prefer to care for their offspring rather than hunt with the males.

    And I don’t see anything wrong with that. The reason we need pairs is so that 1 can guard the cave and the pups whilst the other goes in search of meat. The pair can switch duties when circumstances call for it, but it simply works better with a pair, and best with a pair that has a life bond.

    I’m especially interested in the mothers who decide that, considering their elite education, they can do a much better job teaching their children through home-schooling than earning cash and allowing the school system to botch the teaching. I wonder how much of an increase there would be in home schooling if parents could get a School Voucher? Considering that public schools get as much as $40,000 per student per year, a mother schooling 2 kids at home might net more income than most jobs.

    1. anonymous

      ” To win through the Sorting Machine and then CHOOSE to drop out says something very strange about the presumptions of a gender neutral workforce. It appears that human females, given a choice, really do prefer to care for their offspring rather than hunt with the males.”

      That’s not strange at all

  13. So true I’m almost surprised that a study was needed to see it. A few more related thoughts. One, we also tend to have more children than our peers. Two, the percentage of opt outs would be higher but for our earlier choices and assumptions. This is a slight restatement of the women with elite husband’s can opt out, but once we have children, if we have the option, we tend to take it (and view it as a stroke of luck instead of planning). Three, the lingering assumption–the shunning at cocktail parties and the like–that a housewife is a know nothing isn’t the way to bet.

    1. I would disagree with your first thought; the people with the most children are in the lower economic levels.

      1. Clarification, by “peers” I meant other college educated women. That is, yes, poorer women have more children and on the whole more educated women have fewer children than in the past. But among college educated mothers, it is often the elite educated who have 3 and 4 children while the more typical college grad stays at 1 or 2. The reasons for this vary, but tend to stem from the difficulties of a two-career/three-kid household as well as the difficulties imposed by tiger and helicopter mom styles. Basically, only the elite earners think they can afford more than two children.

  14. Jenniferwithcoffee

    I am college educated (only state uni for me) and we are happy with our decision for me to stay home and raise the little ones. My husband has a good job, but it isn’t a lot of money. We chose to forgo new cars, expensive vacations and finery to make the time investment in the kids. I sometimes wonder about the career opportunities lost by this choice, but feel very strongly that it was the right path. My husband and I were recently discussing this arrangement, I sometimes feel less valued by society because I don’t earn money. We both agreed though, these traditional roles are satisfying on a primal level for each of us. He likes the feeling of providing for our family and I like the feeling of nurturing my kids so closely.

    I am also considering homeschooling because I am less impressed with lowest common denominator public education the more I experience it. It really is the least best option isn’t it?

    1. Jaynie I

      Here is another stay at home mother with a BA and an MLIS who wants to support your decision to homeschool.

      Homeschooling will be an excellent choice for your kids.

      You are probably better educated than lots of the teachers and it’s a cinch that you care about the kids the most.

      See this interesting take on homeschooling (I am neither promoting or not the curriculum, just like the talk):

      Another, unplanned consequence if you will, of homeschooling is that your family may actually be able find bargains that will allow you to go on vacations at odd times.

  15. I’ve met a few JDs with elite degrees who made this choice, despite still drowning in law school debt. They were also employed at top law firms where the sexual discrimination was horrific and the hours terrible. They didn’t like their jobs enough to return. I wonder if less elite JDs end up in more life-friendly (though less remunerative) post-JD careers.

  16. OC Domer

    Parents who received elite educations will normally want the same type of elite education for their children. But getting into elite schools (whether you are wealthy or not) requires a lot of quality preparation, and that preparation must start early. Who is most likely to do a better job preparing a child to compete for spots at top-tier colleges: A brilliant young woman with an elite education who has a very personal stake in the outcome? Or a collection of over-worked, less-educated day care providers, working with overworked, unionized education majors?

    It’s a no-brainer. These highly motivated, highly educated Moms are the best option for preparing those kids for success.

  17. It’s really very simple. High-achieving college women continue to be high-achieving married women regardless of the status of their alma maters. When we have children, the focus of our attention shifts to the family. It’s only natural that we apply our talents there in earnest.

    Ascribing the decison to elite-college-educated or high-earning husbands demeans the choice. Note that it is a choice. It is discussed here because it is contrary to the cultural expectation. Who but high achievers would look for a better experience than the norm and do what they can to live it?

  18. University of Chicago Alum here, married to a fellow alum. I’m home with the kids (homeschooling them!) and many of my classmates also chose to stay home.

    However, it’s not income alone. For instance, my husband’s income isn’t really considered ‘tier 1′– he’s a librarian. But we chose to live in the Midwest precisely so we could support the kids on one income, because we understand that day care and public schools don’t provide the academically stimulating environment we want for our kids. Why should I go to work just to earn money that would get spent on paying LESS intelligent and competent people to raise my kids for me? Why not cut out the middleman, stay home, and teach them myself?

    Homeschooling is really catching on among my friends who went to Tier 1 schools, too. We remember how awful it was to spend 6 hours a day bored in a seat, people keep telling us that our kids are too ADHD and need drugs, and when school teachers try to tell us we’re not smart enough to instruct our children, we roll our eyes.

    So yes, even bigger cultural divides ahead, I think. Especially as homeschooling becomes more mainstream…..

  19. People who are used to doing things right and being successful, don’t ask strangers to participate significantly in raising their children.

    1. Amen.

  20. I think this is just fine. No really, I do. One question. Are these the same women who later re-enter the workforce and complain that women make $0.77 for every $1 a man makes?

    1. Jaynie I

      Most likely they are not.

  21. Brian G.

    My wife did not go to an elite school. She put a hold on her teaching career to be a Mom. She still keeps up her training hours and fills in at a Christian school from time to time. I work my career, take side work on nights and weekends, and the responsibility for bringing in money is all on me. She gets the kids ready for school, take the two of them that are in elementary school, and spends all day with our 2-year old. Our marriage could not be better, and our family life could not be happier. I urge you people, ask yourself if having two incomes is worth it after what it costs for day care and the untold cost on your kids for basically being raised by someone else.

  22. Deirdre Mundy has hit it on the head. I homeschool because I couldn’t stand the notion that my kids would be as bored in public school as I was. My husband and I, college-educated, are not tier 1 earners either. In the early years we were, frankly, poor. I would say that an argument that focuses on the money is wrong. The smarts is the key. If public school was staffed with the best and brightest, would as many of us stay home still? None of us want to entrust our precious ones with the quality available in the school system.

  23. My wife has a bachelor’s from an Ivy (Columbia), an MBA from a near-Ivy (NYU), and a JD from a top-20 law school (Fordham). When she became pregnant with our daughter 13 years ago, she quit Wall Street and has stayed home happily with our kids ever since. We have long known she is far from alone.

    1. Some women are shopaholics; some are schoolaholics. But hopefully she has a good excuse for wasting so much of (other people’s) time and money. (Her professors and classmates; her co-workers; alumni donors; NY and US taxpayers (subsidized loans and research money to keep her elite schools in clover)). And last but not least, her father’s money and her husband’s money.
      This woman represents a black hole of perhaps $1,750,000 of OPM (other people’s money), not counting the opportunity cost of taking a man’s place in grad school. No wonder the country is bankrupt when we educate future housewives like they are the next coming of Bill Gates crossed with Mitt Romney.

  24. Carolyn Lee

    All a person has to do is re-order one’s priorities. Somehow I stayed home with the kids for almost 14 years……and learned firsthand that the whole thing boils down to essentially: time I chose time, time and time again. Best choice my husband and I ever made, and the kids will always know that we chose them over anything else when they were young.

  25. Staying home with the kids was our very best parenting decision. Despite advanced degrees from good schools, we found ourselves poor, earned income tax credit poor, when our three children were young. My husband was working long, unpaid hours starting a business. If I had worked the kids would have been stuck in daycare and wouldn’t have seen much of either parent. Kids need parents, not stuff. We did without stuff and didn’t miss it.
    Patty Goffinet
    Author of Go Outside and Play: Why Kids Don’t and Why They Should

  26. I have to say I must be one of the luckiest men alive. My wife and I have 4 kids. She’s worked the entire time. I stayed home with 2 of them WHILE working as a Realtor and a part-time job in the computer field. Our kids never noticed I worked outside the home. In addition my wife homeschooled one of our children for 1 year. We used a nanny (college student) to stay home with the child and tutor them 3 times a week in addition to an online school. The 2nd income my wife earned paid for our kids to go to college. When it boils down to it I really think it’s cultural. As an African American family, I don’t ever remember my mom staying home. Neither did my wife. So working in cases that one of us may become ill, or for extra savings is feasible. Besides that, I think my wife would be bored being home. She not only works, is a great mom with well performing kids, but she writes on the side. I just try to keep up. What works for every family is different. But when people say what they ‘can’t ‘ do, it usually means won’t.

  27. Why aren’t there Ivy League educated men staying at home as well? It has nothing to do with the woman’s “choice”, but the twisted world we still live in today!!! Women are still the ones expected to stay at home! There should be an equal distribution in the choices of men and women if you are saying that the education enriches and helps one be a better parent for the offsprings!

Comments are closed.

Sort By:

Refine Content:


Additional Keywords:

Refine Results

or to save searches.

Refine Content