What do you do all day?" is a question Anne Marie Davis, 34, says she gets a lot. Ten years ago, she was an "overwhelmed" high school English teacher. "I didn't have time for my husband, " she says, "and I didn't have a life."
Davis, who lives in Lewisville, Texas, isn't a mother, nor does she telecommute. She is a stay-at-home wife, which makes her something of a pioneer in the post-feminist world.
She presented the idea of staying home to her husband, a Web engineer. "I told him it was something I wanted to do, and he supported it. It was a great relief."
Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Women," says stay-at-home wives constitute a growing niche. "In the past few years, many women who are well educated and trained for career tracks have decided instead to stay at home," he says. While his research is ongoing, he estimates that more than 10 percent of the 650 women he's interviewed who choose to stay home are childless.
Daniel Buccino, a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine clinical social worker and psychotherapist, says stay-at-home wives are the latest "status symbols."
"It says, 'We make enough money that we both don't need to work outside the home,'" he says. "And especially with the recent economic pressures, a stay-at-home spouse is often an extreme and visible luxury."
June Cleaver, minus Beaver and Wally
Davis says her life isn't luxurious. "Tuesdays are my laundry day," she says. "I go grocery shopping on Wednesdays and clean house on Thursdays." Mondays and Fridays are reserved for appointments and other errands.
But her schedule also allows for charity work and leisure: reading, creative writing and exploring new hobbies, like sewing.
It's a lifestyle, Davis says, that has made her happier and brought her closer to her husband. "We're no longer stressed out," she says; because she takes care of the home, there are virtually no "honey-do" lists to hand over.
"If you told me years ago that I was going to be a stay-at-home wife, I would have laughed at you," says Catherine Zoerb, 27. Yet after the Wichita, Kansas, resident finished graduate school in 2005, she found herself unemployed, childless -- and strangely happy. With her husband's support, Zoerb decided to just stay home.
"I was able to clip coupons, do all the chores and make nice dinners," she says. "I was much less stressed and tense."
But she was concerned, too -- about not using her master's degree in English and how future employers would view her work history. "I worried about gaps in my resume," she says. And there was something else: "I thought about the feminist movement -- all those women who worked so hard so that I could go out and have a good career, and I was kind of saying 'no thanks.'"
Recently, Zoerb took a temporary job at an engineering firm. It will boost her resume, and although the Zoerbs don't need the money, it will help pay down their mortgage. Still, she hopes to return to stay-at-home wifedom soon.
"I'd never say that a woman shouldn't work," she says. "But I don't see what good it would do to work in a job that I couldn't stand, and if I have the choice not to, why wouldn't I take that opportunity?"
Retro marriage, 21st century-style
"Everyone seems to be OK with women staying home when they have kids," says Davis, who currently doesn't plan to have children. "I've actually heard people say that women who don't work are a drain on society."
Don't be too quick to judge, says Haltzman. Women might give up a job to focus on an advanced degree, pursue artistic or creative goals, or deal with health issues.
Surprisingly, though, Haltzman says the biggest draw is homemaking itself. "Many women I talk to take care of the household seriously, and they want to focus on caring for the home, whether or not it involves children."
Sometimes a wife's desires don't align with her husband's. "I hear frustration from men whose wives choose not to work," Haltzman says, "but only if there are financial stresses. One of the realities is that few men appreciate the scope and difficulties of managing a household."
Kirk Zoerb is an exception: The 27-year-old engineer says he's happiest when his wife is jobless.
"When Catherine stays at home, I feel the house is more together because she has the time to do things like in-depth cleaning and can be more attentive to the garden," he says. "She also has more time to find good deals at secondhand stores, garage sales and at grocery stores." As a couple, he says, "we have more energy and are generally emotionally healthier."
Still, "I don't believe that the woman has to be the exclusive cook, cleaner or shopper, and I don't believe the man must be the breadwinner. I wouldn't mind staying at home while Catherine works!"