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Ann Romney aside: stay at home moms and the "mommy wars"

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Tom Gannam/Reuters

(Read caption) Ann Romney recently took to Twitter to defend her role as a stay at home mom; one new volley in the so-called "mommy wars." Here she leaves her husband, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, on the stage at a recent campaign event for the National Rifle Association.

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Prompted by the “mommy wars” political dustup last week (Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen set off a tempest when she said that stay-at-home mom Ann Romney – wife of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney – had never worked a day in her life) the Pew Research Center sent out a roundup of some of its recent studies related to women, work and motherhood.

The studies are fascinating. And taken together, they seem to show what the Ms. Rosen versus Ms. Romney debate also seemed to suggest: As a society, and as individuals, we’re quite conflicted about the best role for mom.

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Nearly three quarters of American adults say “the trend toward more women in the workforce has been a change for the better,” according to the Center. And 62 percent believe that a marriage where both partners have jobs and share the housework is more satisfying than the old separate spheres model of the husband working outside the house and the wife taking care of the home.

(These facts are from two recent Pew reports – “The Generation Gap and the 2012 Election”  from Nov. 2011 and “The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families” from Nov. 2010.)

But when it comes to working moms, the tone changes.

Take a look at some of these stats from a 2009 report, “The Harried Life of the Working Mother.”

According to that research, only 21 percent of adults say society has benefited by the trend of more mothers of young children working outside the house. And for their part, the majority of working moms (62 percent) say they would prefer to work only part time, while 50 percent of mothers with kids under the age of 5 “completely agreed’ that too many children are being raised in day care centers.

But it’s not, as Rosen seemed to suggest, the wealthy, extra-privileged women who are likely to stay at home with their children. In fact, the Pew studies show, stay-at-homes are more likely to have lower incomes and less education than their working peers.

Only 21 percent of stay-at-home moms are college graduates, compared to 34 percent of working moms. Thirty-seven percent of stay at home moms report a household income of less than $30,000 a year. 

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There is one clear statistical benefit that stay at home moms do have over working moms, according to Pew:

“Only” 26 percent of mothers who don’t work outside the home report that they “always feel rushed.” For moms working full time, that number is 41 percent. Part time work doesn’t help much with the crunch – 40 percent of moms with part time jobs said they constantly feel rushed.