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working parents, stay at home mother, stay at home dad, stay at home parent, Daily MAil, ONS, Office for National Statistics
A woman of childbearing age. Not only is she in paid employment, but she is wearing trousers. Pic credit below.

The Daily Mail provided the world with a gem yesterday. The headline was as follows; Decline of the stay at home mother; just one woman in ten is a full time mum.

In the way you might expect from this publication, it went on to talk about “stigmatising” stay at home mothers, “economically inactive” women and a lack of “house-husbands.” There is, the paper thundered, a “controversy over pressure on working mothers.” There was, by the way, no mention of the immense pressure felt by working fathers.

Before going on, I’d better state my own position. I simply think every family needs to do what is right for its circumstances. I don’t think it matters who does or doesn’t work, either parent should be free to stay at home and do so without judgement.

I’d love to see more men doing what I do and give up careers to look after family and home. It is, however, more difficult for a man to look after family and home without being judged. Articles like the one I’m referring to don’t help. The sub-text and language are very clear; a woman’s place is in the home.

Let us take a closer look at this story for a moment. Essentially it is one about identity and it is based on figures published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). I tried to locate the source material but failed so I have no idea about the data’s quality.

I want to start with the claim made in the headline that “Just one woman in ten is a full time mum.” This immediately made me suspicious. From memory, around a third of the population never procreates. In other words, around 33% of woman have never had the opportunity to be a stay at home mother. The headline is, therefore, flagellating these individuals for the lack of action within their wombs.

When we get to paragraph ten, a vital little nugget of information comes to the fore. The ONS statistics refer to women “aged between 16 and 64.” I have no desire to knock young mothers, but, as far as I’m concerned, the fewer teenaged stay at home parents the better. At the other end of the spectrum, why would we expect a 64 year old woman to be a stay at home mum? A stay at home grandmother, maybe, but mother, unlikely.

There is one further point buried within these statistics. Even the tiniest bit of economic activity means you are not a stay at home mum. In other words, those few hours you work in a retail store on a Saturday mean you will be classified as a working parent (using the same criteria, if you were male, you wouldn’t be a classed as a stay at home dad either).

To the rest of the world, you’re an exceedingly committed parent letting your other half spend some time with the kids while you get some time to mingle with adults away from the family home. To the ONS you are “economically active” and unfortunately this makes you fair game to the excitable right wing press.

I would include myself in this category of parents to be persecuted. I make some money from blogging and writing and fit it round my kids. Ask me what I do for a living and I’ll tell you; stay at home dad first, writer second. I appreciate the ONS has a very difficult job to do, but it would appear its system of classifying occupations desperately needs updating.

As technology improves and employment law (and therefore employers) become more flexible, more stay at home parents can become economically active. So long as their family always comes first, I don’t see why that’s a bad thing.

l will finish with a story from my misspent youth. During my college days I was in the library of an old mining town in Northern England. On the walls were hung a variety of photographs, about a century old, of women of childbearing age working at nearby coilleries.

The standards of the era dictated that women weren’t allowed to work underground, but, as the photographs clearly showed, they did back-breaking physical work above ground. In other words women have long combined economic activity and motherhood.

More to the point, however, these photographs showed the women wearing trousers. I wonder what your average Daily Mail reader would make of that.

Pic credit: Esteher M. Zimmer Lederberg Trust. See this website for more.

10 thoughts on “Don’t believe the hype”

  1. The veins on my temples bulge, at the very mention of that particular publication. The Daily Heil as it is so eloquently dubbed in my house, would not even be used to line a litter tray.

    I’ve seen statistics in this rag, (source also unverified), that state, 15 out of 10 daily mail journalists have problems with statistics.

    *thinking calming thoughts*

  2. Misleading headline and stats can be twisted to fit a certain viewpoint as they have been in this case.
    Although I do feel there are fewer SAHPs maiy due to different technologies opening up bigger opportunities to work and look after your children rather than using child care. I certainly do not count myself as economically active I don’t pay tax, I earn £250/month it helps the family but it’s only as I don’t pay any child care out of that being a Saturday so my husband is home. I took massive step down to do this job however it suits us right now, it’s not my career! I agree that it impossible to do both well or to a level you are happy with (both parents working full time and to run the home, look after children etc)

    1. I think technology is a great enabler but, sadly, I think life is so expensive thaty most families need both parents to work to some capacity. That deoesn’t need ot be a negative thing, but questioning your commitment as a parent simply because you do some part time work is dreadful. It heaps yet further guilt on us parents and im particuar, mothers.

  3. Good analysis John, Always look behind the figures, ONS would do better to analyse the number of parents with (young) children as a top line figure. The other suggestion behind the statistic is looking after children is not a job and it does not contribute to the economy. Child care assistants get paid (rightly) to look after children while parents at home do not.

    1. A pleasure to have the one and only Judith Silk commenting upon my blog. I do not feel worthy. I also love you suggestions as to what the ONS should do.

  4. This story (The Daily Mail’s not yours!) is so very frustrating, mainly because women – and men – are constantly being labelled and put into boxes. I am one of those mothers who falls into the ‘economically active’ bracket because I can work around school hours. Prior to that, shortly after I had my first child I was being told that women can ‘have it all’ and that having children shouldn’t prevent you from “going back to normal” like the numerous celebrities profiled in that publication. Women and men should be encouraged to do what best suits their family structure, no more stigmatising, no more being boxed in. And to do that they need to get their stats right first!

    1. Being male or female, I increasing think that attempting to have it all is the highway to high blood pressure. We really need to stop labelling people and just do what works for ourselves.

  5. Pingback: It’s official; stay at home dads do not exist | Dad Blog UKIt's official; stay at home dads do not exist - Dad Blog UK

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