May 29 2013
The Rise in (Reluctant) Breadwinner Moms
Carrie L. Lukas
As Lindsey noted below, Pew Research Center today released a report on the growing number of mothers with children under 18 who are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. The trend is in part the result in the explosion in single-mother households, but the growth in married women out-earning their husbands is part of the story too. According to Pew:
The share of married mothers who out-earn their husbands has gone up from 4% in 1960 to 15% in 2011, nearly a fourfold increase. During the same period, the share of families led by a single mother has more than tripled (from 7% to 25%).
There is both good and bad news in this data. Women are increasingly well-educated and using their skills to earn more, and contribute more to the economy in the process. As IWF’s Charlotte Hays wrote, this certainly suggests that the U.S. economy isn’t overwhelmingly hostile to women, as so many on the left would have us believe.
That’s the good news. The flip side is men’s diminished economic power. Men have been falling behind in terms of academic achievement and disproportionately facing persistent joblessness and under-employment, and their earnings are suffering as a result.
Furthermore, it’s a mistake to assume that moms’ increased responsibility for supporting their families financially is unadulterated good news for moms themselves. A different recent Pew report found that less than one-quarter of married moms want to work full-time. That means many of these new breadwinners are breadwinners out of necessity, not choice.
Feminists tend to root for men and women to be equally represented in all facets of life. From that perspective, this report is positive news, but victory will not be achieved until married moms are the primary breadwinners in (at least) half of all families.
Yet that’s not how most Americans see it. As Pew found when they surveyed people’s attitudes toward this trend, Americans are ambivalent about these developments, supporting women in their economic advancement but also worrying about what so many single and dual-working parents mean for children.
Most Americans don’t see the economy as a tug-of-war between the sexes. They want people to have the opportunity to structure their lives and families according to their preferences. For many women, that would mean not working full-time when their children are young, so this report is evidence of hardship for many.