The Story: According to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, a record 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family. The share was just 11% in 1960.
The Background: These “breadwinner moms” are made up of
two widely divergent groups. A little more than a third (37%) are married mothers who have a higher income than the their husbands. Approximately 5.1 million American women fall into this category. However, the vast majority (63%) are single mothers, a group comprised of 8.6 million women.
As the Pew analysis notes, the median total family income of married mothers who earn more than their husbands was nearly $80,000 in 2011, well above the national median of $57,100 for all families with children, and nearly four times the $23,000 median for families led by a single mother. Compared with all mothers with children under age 18, married mothers who out-earn their husbands are slightly older, disproportionally white, and college educated. Single mothers, by contrast, are younger, more likely to be black or Hispanic, and less likely to have a college degree.
The Takeaways: Some of the more interesting findings from the survey include:
• The total family income is about $2,000 higher when the mother, not the father, is the primary breadwinner.
• In two-parent families today, 61% have a mother whose education level is similar to her husband’s, 23% have a mother who is better educated than her husband, and 16% have a father who is better educated than his wife.
• When asked if they agree or disagree that it is generally better for a marriage if a husband earns more than his wife, some 28% of survey respondents say they agree and 63% disagree.
• The share of never married mothers among all single mothers has increased from 4% in 1960 to 44% in 2011.
• Close to half of never married mothers in 2011 (46%) are ages 30 and younger, six-in-ten are either black (40%) or Hispanic (24%), and nearly half (49%) have a high school education or less. Their median family income was $17,400 in 2011, the lowest among all families with children.
• Relatively few (21%) of the people surveyed think the trend toward more mothers of young children working outside the home is a good thing for our society. Only 16% say having a mother who works full time is the ideal
situation for a young child.
• Roughly three-quarters of adults (74%) say the increasing number of women working for pay has made it harder for parents to raise children. Only 19% say this has made it easier to raise children, and 2% say it hasn’t made much difference.
• Half of all adults say the trend toward more women working has made it harder for marriages to be successful. Only about one-third (35%) say this change has made it easier for marriages to be successful, and 5% say it hasn’t made much difference.
• There is no significant gender gap in views about how having more women in the workplace affects marriage and child rearing. However, men are more likely than women to see the economic benefits of this trend
• About six-in-ten adults (64%) say the growing number of children born to unmarried mothers is a big problem. An additional 19% say this is a small problem, and 13% say this is not a problem at all.