Pew researchers said they found little research comparing stay-at-home and working moms when they dug into a topic that has stirred debate over child rearing for years.
While working mothers have gained greater acceptance -- no surprise with 70 percent of mothers in the workforce -- they found continued ambivalence about that issue. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed felt kids are better of with one parent home with them.
A 2010 study by the U.S. Census Bureau also showed an increase in stay-at-home mothers starting in 1999, and it, too, noted the effects of rising immigration.
In 2009, the last year covered by the research, stay-at-home moms were younger, less educated and more likely to be Hispanic than in 1969, the study by Rose M. Kreider and Diana B. Elliott showed.
Contrary to a belief that highly educated professional women are leaving the workplace by choice, more often they're leaving after "reaching career impasses because of the struggles to have both a career and a family," the study said.
Frances Frost came to the U.S. from Seoul, South Korea, as a child and earned a master's degree in operations management and a teaching certification. But the Silver Spring resident left the workforce when the first of her four children, a daughter, was born.
"I just decided I wanted to be her primary caregiver. I didn't want to put her in child care," said Frost, who was teaching high school business and finance before having her girls, ages 15, 13 and 9 and son, 11.
She calls the "stay-at-home" label a misnomer because, "I rarely do, between volunteer activities, household errands and chauffeuring the children around town. They all get home at 3 p.m. and we're pretty much off and running," to swimming, choir, basketball and tennis. "It's just being there for them. I can help them with homework. It's a little bit less stressful than if I were working."
Her role and schedule shifted as her children grew. With younger children, they stayed home and colored, went to Mommy and Me classes or took trips to the zoo. Now, with the kids in school -- her youngest is a third-grader -- she volunteers with the PTA and her sorority, and last year self-published a novel, "Life in Spades."
Even after her kids outgrew the need for child care, Columbia resident Jennifer Swickard Mallo stayed home with her three teenagers.
"Part of me would consider other avenues of employment, but I've spent now 17 years as my own boss, and the idea of returning to someone else's expectations as an employee would be very different," Mallo said. "As a former professional, I made this my profession and have had to approach it as a job, which can be unbelievably tedious at times. I had to find ways to enrich it for myself."
She has taken on numerous volunteer roles, heading the PTA, serving on preschool boards and directing cultural arts projects, activities "that rival many full-time jobs in little bits and spurts," she said.
As part of its research, Pew found at-home moms spent more of their time on child care and housework than those in the workforce. And they had only slightly more leisure time and sleep.
"Everyone feels, 'Oh you stay home, and it's so easy, and you have so much time to yourself.' And it's not," Mocik said. "Some days I think it would be easier if I did go to work. I'm constantly being pulled in 10 different directions."
Despite the reversal in long-term trends, experts don't expect a huge influx of stay-at-home mothers over the next few years.
An earlier Pew report showed both working and stay-at-home moms believed working part-time would be ideal.
"All else being equal," Livingston said. "the share of mothers who are at-home is not likely to skyrocket in future years."