Stay-At-Home Moms: Another Skilled Worker Hurdle?

At a time when skilled labor is scarce, stay at home moms point to yet another challenge that management faces when it comes to filling open positions, according to new research from Pew Research Center.

stay at home Mom Almost three in 10 mothers with children under 18 living with them are stay-at-home moms. In the past that would not have been such a big deal. But the education of women has risen dramatically in the post-World War II period. For example:

  • Among all women aged 25 and older, the proportion with at least 1 year of college more than tripled, rising from about 15 percent in 1960 to 53 percent in 2005.  (Among men, this proportion almost tripled, going from 18 percent to 53 percent.) 
  • The participation rate for women with a college degree rose from about 57 percent in 1962 to 73 percent in 2005, while the rate for women with some college (but not a bachelor’s degree) went from 42 percent to 67 percent.

As more jobs require advanced skills and nearly all new jobs require at least some post-secondary education, companies can ill afford to lose even a single skilled worker. But over the past few decades, a critical trend went largely unnoticed. It is now having a major impact on recruitment:

There are more women than men that have been going to and graduating from college.

Women now enroll in greater numbers than men in both undergraduate and graduate institutions. Women age 25 to 34 are now more likely than men of that same age group to have attained a college degree, reversing the norm of 40 years ago.

Among women age 25 to 64 in the labor force, 36 percent held college degrees in 2009, compared to 11 percent in 1970 – nearly 325% increase. In contrast, the share of men with a college degree increased by one-half. By 2019, women are projected to account for nearly 60 percent of total undergraduate enrollment.

Over the same period, the proportion of women workers with less than a high school diploma fell from 34 percent to 7 percent.

The trend in graduate school is similar. In 2008, women accounted for 59 percent of graduate school enrollment. As recently as 1998 more doctoral degrees were conferred to men than to women. A decade later, more doctoral degrees were conferred to women than men.

With more women than men holding the skills needed to do today’s skilled labor, stay-at-moms pose a significant threat for business. 

One industry impacted tremendously by women is healthcare. At one time, men were the doctors, women were the nurses.

In 1965, only 8 percent of medical school students were women. By 2012, nearly half of all students and graduates were women.

Companies need to figure out a way to lure these moms back to work with personalized and innovative compensation, benefits, and perk packages. Flexibility and telecommuting for many of these moms will be more important than money. 

But while those changes may be a magnet for the new mom, it creates another management problem – how do you treat these moms differently than your male workers, your young, unmarried Millennials, and your Baby Boomers who are looking to cut back but still keep working?

Enticing these married with children women back to work will not be that easy.  Married women with college degrees typically have husbands with similar levels of education. These husbands are likely to be earning good paychecks, providing their wives with options about whether to work after the birth of children. So while these college-educated mothers invested heavily in their careers, they are often more able to be leave the work force, at least temporarily.


Ira S Wolfe