Stay at Home Moms Returning to Work

I received this question to PursePundit from a television news researcher – “I’m working on a piece related to the recession and full time moms forced back into the workforce (as husbands lose their jobs or take pay cuts). Could you offer some insight?”

Absolutely this is happening, as intuition would tell us, but the question is are they successful? The likely answer to that is, no.

Overall, unemployment is on the rise, with drastic hits in housing related industries, areas dominated by men. This not only includes construction, but also finance areas like mortgage banking. Finance more generally has been hit hard losing tens of thousands of jobs with more to come. Decreasing consumer spending is leading to broader based job cuts across sectors and across industries. In general demand is not very good, for men or women. Additionaly, the numbers of women that are trying to reenter the workplace is likely not captured in the unemployment numbers we get reported to us, thus understating the unemployement situation.

Women entering the job market, after years of absence, face huge challenges coming back in, even in good markets. There is a proven mommy discount, which researchers like Sylvia Ann Hewlett and others have noted in discussions about ‘on ramping’. I recently read a piece in the NY Times which made me wild. It almost celebrated the big opportunity for employers in hiring women who have been at home because they can pay them up to 40% less then they are ‘worth’ based on their skills and experience because of the time out. The author went on to say that these women were just grateful to have a job, almost at any price.

Leslie Bennetts, in her book “The Feminine Mistake”, highlights the risks that women are taking in making that choice to leave full time employment to full time motherhood, a risk that becomes reality in economic downturns. She advises women, strongly, to weigh these risks very carefully before choosing to leave. Women who have stayed at work, even part time, will be in a much better position to step-up their financial contribution to the family should the family be in need.

So back to the question. How are women doing when forced to return to the workplace after years of absence due to economic need? Most women who are forced back in to the work place out of economic need in bad economic conditions will likely have to take jobs that are well beneath their abilities, and accept pay that is not in the same ballpark of what they earned prior to leaving. Many will find the limited options not doable, and instead opt to downsize their lifestyles drastically. This is clearly already happening and is what contributes to the downward economic cycle. For others, particularly those who have kept their skills current and their professional networks, success is more likely.

Though I was not able to easily find research on this subject a good place to look would be The National Council for Research on Women, a network of over 100 Womens research and Policy Centers.

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