By Linda Shrieves, Orlando Sentinel
When Adriana Bell had her first child, she kept working. But as a customer-service agent for an airline, she worked many nights, weekends and holidays. For Bell, who grew up in Colombia, that was not the American dream. So when her son Nicholas was 4, she quit and became a stay-at-home mom.
“My priority is family, and the schedule was killing me,” said Bell, 43. “Sometimes I had to stay at the airport until 2 or 3 in the morning. That was breaking my heart.”
Bell represents a surprise in the latest census data. In a study of stay-at-home moms released today, the U.S. Census Bureau found that of the 5.6 million stay-at-home moms in the country in 2007, more than a quarter were Hispanic, even though Hispanic women represent just 13 percent of the nation’s population. Slightly more than 60 percent were white, and a very small proportion were either black or Asian. The report represents the first time the Census Bureau has done a detailed analysis of stay-at-home moms, said Rose Kreider, family demographer with the Census Bureau. Though the data, collected in early 2007, do not reflect many of the changes wrought by the recession, Kreider said that, because unemployed workers who are staying home with kids but still looking for a job would not fit the definition of a stay-at-home parent, the data likely won’t vary greatly in the next few years.
The data, she said, showed some trends that buck conventional wisdom about stay-at-home moms.
“The norms about who works and who stays home with the kids may differ somewhat” from what we see portrayed on television, in magazines and the movies, Kreider said.
Indeed, though there’s a perception that many well-educated, well-to-do moms are opting out of the work force to stay home with their kids, the census found that only 7.4 percent of stay-at-home moms had a master’s or more advanced degree. By contrast, about 45 percent of the stay-at-home moms either didn’t complete high school or had earned a high-school diploma. A slightly higher proportion (46.9 percent) had taken some college courses or earned a bachelor’s degree.
The stay-at-home moms were not poor, however. Only 12.3 percent of their families were below the poverty level, while nearly one in four reported that their family income was more than $100,000.
Still many stay-at-home moms say they’re making sacrifices — gladly — so they can stay home with their kids.
DeeAnn Gilliam, who lives in east Orange County with her husband and 8-year-old daughter, opted to stay home when her daughter was born.
“The sacrifice has been mostly financial, but I absolutely think it’s worth it,” said Gilliam, who left a human-resources job to stay home. What she misses, however, are the things she and her husband used to do: travel the world and dine out regularly.
Demographers and sociologists say the most surprising aspect was the disproportionate number of Hispanic stay-at-home moms.
Heili Pals, who teaches sociology at the University of Central Florida, notes that Hispanic women have lower average incomes than black or white women, so they might be more likely to stay home because their jobs don’t pay enough for them to afford good child care. In addition, Hispanic moms, particularly recent immigrants, tend to be younger and have lower education levels than other racial groups — all of which makes them more likely to stay home.
“There is some evidence that Hispanic culture, even in the U.S., is more traditional, and that might be the reason more Hispanic women are staying at home with kids,” Pals said.
Kreider, of the Census Bureau, said there also may “be a language barrier to getting out and finding a job that pays enough to pay for day care.”
Yet all families are different. Adriana Bell hated to leave a good company but was torn by her work schedule and her commitment to family. For others, the answer may be more clear-cut.
The “America’s Families and Living Arrangement: 2007″ report included other findings:
The proportion of married couples with children continued a nearly 40-year decline. In 1970, 40.3 percent of all households were married couples with children, compared with 22.5 percent in 2007.
Where are the old-fashioned families? Utah had the highest percentage of households with children younger than 18 maintained by married couples — 82 percent — while Washington, D.C., had the highest proportion (54 percent) of households with kids led by a single parent.
More people are living alone. The proportion of one-person households has jumped from 17 percent in 1970 to 27 percent in 2007.
Know a stay-at-home dad? There aren’t many. There were 165,000 stay-at-home dads in 2007, such a small number that demographers struggle to make estimates or track trends in this group.