What Research Says About Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

Ask people what they think about stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) and stay-at-home dads (SAHDs) and you'll likely get a variety of answers. Some might say they've got it easy, or that life at home with the kids would be boring. Some might think they're lazy or not contributing much to society. Others contend that stay-at-home parents are making the best decision of their lives and that they're making a noble, worthwhile sacrifice to stay home and nurture their kids day in and day out.

If you're contemplating whether or not to be a stay-at-home parent, what matters most is what works best for your family. So, first and foremost, consider your personal beliefs, priorities, finances, and lifestyle. However, there is also a wealth of research on the subject that you can consult when making your decision. The findings on life as a stay-at-home parent may surprise you.

pros and cons of being a stay at home parent

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Pros and Cons of Staying at Home

There are, of course, many personal reasons for or against staying home with your kids. Benefits may include being able to spend more time with your kids and having more direction over their learning and development. You may not want to miss a minute of their childhood. You also might not trust others to care for your little loves. Drawbacks include the big hit to your family's income and to the trajectory of your career as well as the big change to your lifestyle.

Each person's specific pros and cons and how they feel about them are unique. However, research shows that there are overarching pros and cons of being a stay-at-home parent that may apply overall to many. These key factors are supported by data gathered in research studies and may help you to decide whether you want to stay at home or return to the workplace.

While there is no right or wrong answer, this research may help inform your choice—not make it for you. Keep in mind that each of these benefits and drawbacks may or may not apply to you. There are many different factors, such as budget, lifestyle, priorities, social support, relationship status, spousal involvement, and your kids' specific needs, to take into account before making your final decision.

Pros
  • Increase in child's school performance

  • Child has less stress and aggression

  • Greater involvement in child's day-to-day life

  • Feeling good about the choice to stay home

Cons
  • Parents often desire to go back to work

  • Parents may have higher levels of sadness, depression, and anger

  • Social isolation for the parent

  • Loss of income

Evidence-Based Pros

There are many reasons that parents choose to stay at home with their children. Studies have shown that many people think this is the best option for kids when financially plausible. According to a Pew Research Center study, about 18% of American parents stayed home with their children in 2018.

According to Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends, 60% of Americans say a child is better off with at least one parent at home. Another 35% said kids are just as well off with both parents working outside the home.

Kids Benefit at Every Age

A 2014 study found that the benefits of having a parent at home extend beyond the early years of a child's life. The study measured the educational performance of 68,000 children. Researchers found an increase in school performance all the way to high school-aged children. However, the biggest educational impact was on kids ages 6 and 7.

Most homeschoolers also have an at-home parent instructing them. A compilation of studies provided by the National Home Education Research Institute supports the benefits of a parent at home for educational reasons.

Some research has found homeschoolers generally score 15 to 30 percentile points above public school students on standardized tests and achieve above-average scores on the ACT and SAT tests.

Regardless of whether parents stay home or work outside the home, research shows that parent involvement in schools makes a difference in children's academic performance and how long they actually stay in school. And some kids with learning differences and/or special needs may do better in a school (vs. homeschooling) in order to access any required services.

Decreased Stress and Aggression in Kids

Some studies link childcare with increased behavioral problems and suggest that being at home with your children offers benefits to their development compared with them being in being in childcare full-time. This may be reassuring news for stay-at-home parents knee-deep in diapers and temper tantrums.

Studies from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Institute of Child Development of the University of Minnesota found that children who spend a large amount of their day in daycare experienced higher stress levels and aggression as opposed to those who stayed home.

Subsequent studies also showed higher levels of stress in children in childcare settings compared with those who are cared for at home. But that doesn't mean you have to keep your children with you every minute until they're ready to go to school. Look for a Parent's Day Out or babysitting co-op that allows your kids to play with others while giving you some time alone.

Greater Control of Children's Upbringing

The ability to directly protect, spend time with, and nurture their children each day is often cited as a primary benefit of not working outside the home. Studies show that some parents stay home specifically with the purpose of having greater first-hand control over the influences their child is exposed to. Others simply see it as their duty to be the one who provides the daily care to their offspring.

More Parents Want to Stay Home

More people are becoming stay-at-home parents—and 60% of Americans believe that choice is best for children. The number of stay-at-home parents jumped from a low of 23% in 1999 to 29% in less than 15 years. However, today's rates don't match those of the 1970s and earlier when around 50% of women (and very few men) were stay-at-home parents.

While the number of men taking on this role is far lower than that of women (around 210,000 compared with over 5.2 million), the rate of men becoming stay-at-home dads is on an upswing, too. Between 2010 and 2014, the prevalence of men choosing to say home increased by 37%.

Evidence-Based Cons

Regardless of the increasing numbers and some important benefits, a decision to quit your job to become a stay-at-home parent shouldn't be made out of guilt or peer pressure. While there are many great reasons to be a stay-at-home parent, it's not necessarily right or beneficial (or financially plausible) for everyone. For some families, the drawbacks significantly outweigh any positives.

Many People Miss Working

Research shows that many stay-at-home parents miss working outside the home and think about going back to work someday. It can be tough to leave behind the tangible rewards and results of a job, especially one you enjoyed and were good at.

If you stay home when your kids are little but plan to return to the workforce, you can take some steps to bridge that employment gap, such as taking classes, earning licenses or certificates that enhance your resume, or even taking a part-time job. You might also consider at-home business opportunities as well as work-at-home jobs that let you stay home while also earning money and reclaiming some of what you missed about your career.

Costs to Career and Pocketbook

Clearly, the decision to stay at home with your kids means giving up income. Research shows that stay-at-home parents must contend with lost wages now and decreased wages when returning to work. This "wage penalty" often amounts to 40% less in earned income over time.

There is also a big hit to the stay-at-home parent's career trajectory. Some parents are able to regain their previous work roles upon reentering the workforce, while others struggle to get a foothold professionally after taking time off.

Clearly, the direct impact on your family's finances will depend on your personal earning potential, skills, and career choices—as well as the income of your partner, if you have one. However, studies show that mothers who reenter work after having children experience between a 5% and 10% pay gap compared with their childless peers. This is in addition to the pay gap between women and men.

Adverse Impacts on Physical and Mental Health

Studies show that stay-at-home parents experience poorer physical and mental health compared with parents who work outside the home. Effects include higher rates of mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, as well as higher rates of chronic illness.

There are likely several reasons for this, including experiencing more parental and financial stress. Working parents tend to have access to more robust health insurance plans than stay-at-home parents. They also tend to benefit from greater self-worth, personal control over their life, economic security, and more dynamic socio-economic support.

Increased Sadness

Stay-at-home parents report feeling more depression, sadness, and anger than parents with jobs. A 2012 Gallup poll surveyed 60,000 women including women with no children, working moms, and stay-at-home moms who were or were not looking for work, and found more negative feelings among the SAHMs.

However, it's worth noting that significant research shows that whether they work outside the home or not, parents generally are less happy than their childless counterparts. Of course, the joy you personally get from parenting (and staying home with the kids) is likely to be highly individual.

More Social Isolation

A 2015 study found that many moms are spending lots of time with their kids, more so than in years past. Researchers believe this extra kid-focus results in a higher potential for social isolation. Interestingly, the research found no scientifically proven difference in outcomes for the children with this additional parental attention.

Some stay-at-home parents may feel isolated or undervalued by what some call the mommy wars, which pit parents against each other. This social dynamic can create perceived judgments or pressures that leave some stay-at-home parents feeling like they're not respected as worthy members of society. On the flip side, some working parents may feel criticized for not spending as much time with their children. Both groups can end up feeling socially isolated.

A 2021 study found that around a third of all parents experience loneliness. That's why it's so important for all parents (whether they stay at home or work outside the home) to find the right balance of social activities, exercise, sleep, hobbies, and self-care. Additionally, it's helpful to make the most of your family time, including creating gadget-free zones and planning fun activities you can all enjoy.

It's also key to take care of your own emotional well-being and let your children spend some time away from you. Whether it's a date night with your spouse or scheduling a day off so you can have some alone time, you're not going to shortchange your child because you didn't spend every minute with them. In fact, giving yourself parenting breaks and opportunities to socialize is important for your well-being, particularly during times of stress.

Life Changes Due to the Pandemic

Lockdowns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in closed offices and schools. This caused many working parents to either lose their jobs or switch to working from home. At the same time, parents needed to take on additional childcare duties and/or oversee their child's schooling. These radical, often overwhelming life shifts caused many working parents to reduce their hours or quit their jobs entirely and become de facto stay-at-home parents.

Research tells us that these shifts in work and parenting responsibilities affected working women more than men. These changes caused increased stress, burnout, and anxiety, as well as loss of income. Coping with the illness and death caused by COVID-19 also took a huge toll.

As the pandemic retreated, some parents chose to continue to stay home, while others returned to work, shifted to part-time jobs, changed careers, or started their own businesses. But some struggled to get back into the workforce.

The pandemic derailed or sidetracked careers, especially for women who bore the brunt of school and childcare closures. Many parents, especially moms, didn't have the opportunity to choose how to balance their work and life commitments. This lack of control can contribute to burnout and stress.

A Word From Verywell

Societal pressures make many parents feel like they can't win whether they're carrying a diaper bag or a briefcase all day. Whether you work or stay home, stop feeling like you're failing as a parent. There are trade-offs to every decision you make.

When it comes down to it, research is just research. Make a choice that's right for you and your family and don't worry about what strangers, neighbors, relatives, or scientists think. These findings can't tell you exactly what's going on in your family. Ultimately, honor what's best for you and your family—and note that these circumstances are highly individual and may change over time.

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Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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