Second look at the blue social model?
My gut reaction: Of course stay-at-home moms are stressed, they live in poorer households than women who work do. This result is simply an artifact of worrying about money, not having to take care of kids. Right? Actually … no. Says Gallup:
Stay-at-home moms fare worse than employed moms at every income level in terms of sadness, anger, and depression. On the other items Gallup measures — laughter, enjoyment, happiness, worry, stress, learning something interesting, and having a high life evaluation rating — middle- and high-income stay-at-home moms for the most part do as well as employed moms.
However, low-income stay-at-home moms do worse on all of these items than their employed counterparts.
In other words, yes, of course being poor is adding stress to the load for lower-income stay-at-home moms, but that doesn’t explain why equally poor working moms are a bit happier on balance. The numbers for families earning less than $36,000:
You would think that having to worry about kids and work would mean more worry and stress for lower-income working moms, but there you go. My hunch here is that many/most working moms who live in households that earn this little are probably single mothers and therefore the sole breadwinners for their families, and paradoxically that responsibility may add up to less stress. When you’re this close to dire poverty and homelessness, knowing that you have it in your power to put food on the table for your kids may be something of a psychological relief; if you show up every day and do your job well, you stand a fair chance of holding down a steady paycheck. If, on the other hand, you’re a SAHM married to a man who’s earning less than $36,000 a year, the only thing standing between you and dire poverty or homelessness is his ability to show up every day and do his job well. And the painful truth is that not every husband is going to do that. Simply put, financial independence may mean less worry in the aggregate even if it means more responsibilities.
The other wrinkle here is that lower-income moms who stay home probably are being forced by circumstances to do so, which is bound to add some frustration no matter how much they enjoy spending time with their kids. Poor families need as much money as they can muster so if mom’s passing on the chance to earn a second income, it’s likely because (a) she simply can’t find work, or at least work that pays well enough to justify giving up some of her household responsibilities, or (b) there are enough little ones at home that they require all-day attention. Either way, she’s compelled to forego an income stream that the family could really use, which means their financial situation is more precarious. Result: Worry and stress.
That explains the problem for lower-income SAHMs but, as noted up top, it doesn’t explain why anger, sadness, and depression are higher for stay-at-home moms than for working moms across all income levels. Here’s where you come in, HA commenters: Why is that? Any theories? Could be that modern expectations that an educated woman should have both a career and a family are weighing on even rich SAHMs and making them question their choices, but beyond that I’ve got nothing. How about it, ladies?