Mothers Are the Sole or Primary Provider in Four-in-Ten Households with Children

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.

  • H.A.T

    Not surprising, as I’ve known far too many completely immature men who want to stay home and let their wives work. I heard one guy boast once, “My wife decided that she would go back to work and let me stay home to pursue my comic book art dream…”

    Give me a break.

  • Dean P

    H.AT. :The alternative to your insensitive comment is that a lot of guys who’s “Silent Gen” parents told them that they would be able to get a job anywhere no matter what their degree was in so they got liberal arts degrees (Religion, Anthropology, Art, History, music etc.) ” Meanwhile women have been getting degrees in more specialized and professional things like web development, law, business, medicine etc.. Which means that women are just becoming more qualified in the job world than men are.

    • Akash Charles

      in actual fact the men were lazy

      it is an undeniable fact that men of the current generations are generally lazier than before- and it makes sense- they do not have the pressure to provide anymore, they have no responsibility so why bother working hard at something!

      • Darren Blair

        Not every guy working a dead-end job, or even unemployed, is “lazy”.

        In my case, I presently work at a minimum wage job.

        …but I have an MBA and over a year’s experience as a finance clerk.

        You see, the area where I live is still feeling the effects of the recession, and so corporate jobs of the kind I would normally have gotten by now are in short supply. Most of the growth right now is in the form of entry-level service jobs, and so I had to take what I could get.

        Given my education and experience I could reasonably expect $50,000 – $60,000 / year + benefits in a healthy economy. This would be more than enough for me to financially support a family given the local cost of living, such that any wife I do have could have the luxury of staying at home.

        Instead, I’m having to save up in order to afford either a trade certification or the cost of relocating to a city that’s in better shape.

        My only other option involves disability. I have multiple medical conditions that I suffer from, including a bad heart (birth defect) and several joint injuries that never healed right because I was never off my feet long enough (I’ve actually got a bad hip, which in and of itself should disqualify me from the job I’m doing). If I’m sufficiently torn up, then I can take federal aid money and put that towards my goals.

        But I’d rather work for what I can earn as long as I’m well enough to work.

        So don’t be quite so hasty to judge everyone. There could easily be factors you’re not entirely privy to.

        • Akash Charles

          I understand that there are different circumstances

          but there is a reason western economies cannot compete with the Asian ones

          we do not work as hard!!- it is a fact, we are not as productive- their men are way more productive cause they have pressure to provide for their families

          here there is no pressure- a guy does not need to do anything to get married- he does not need to be employed have a stable job or get an education it is not a cultural requirement among the masses anymore
          in Asia it is- If you are a guy who cannot work- a woman would not even look at you- and yes women have the choice now in Asian countries because there are way more men than women!

          not to mention western Men are too lazy to look after their parent- of course they lost the jobs- ah of course they will blame the recession on everything- but this is why the country cannot kick back- constant blaming on others for their fault(remember we all our flawed and really we do not even deserve to breath so really we have no right to blame our unhappiness on others cause really we deserve death for our sins)

          and yes people may have certain difficult circumstances- but the vast majority of western men are lazy.

          and the reason why women cannot take over is because the vast majority of them are interested in studying Arts coursed- look it up and get your facts right .

          sorry but historically it has always shown- countries with unemployed men especially young men will never prosper always leads to more violence etc

          as for declining marriage rates- it makes sense- why should women marry a loser- and many still do!

          as for female breadwinner occurring intentionally- it occurs rarely intentionally- it is their choice of lifestyle- I would not do it but if it works for them

          yes do not be so hasty to Judge- lets just all not judge each other- sorry but I would like to be judged and corrected by men and women who are senior to me so I can do the right thing!

          • Darren Blair

            [citation needed]

            I’d really, really love to see where you’re getting your information from, because in my personal experience a lot of what you describe just isn’t so.

    • JohnM

      Dean P, Do you have a particular reason to think Silent Generation men, more than women,have been gravitating toward liberal arts degrees, following parental advice, or are you telling your personal story?

      Not picking on you here, I’m just not sure I find your explanation all that plausible.

      I think one of the things happening is that overall women are just becoming as (not more) qualified in the job world as men. Not the whole story, but part of it.

  • Rachael Starke

    Unirenic, broad-brushed declarations like today’s by Owen Strachan’s, the fact that this is the current reality for American families has huge implications for womens’/ mens’ / family ministry. We have got to embrace ministry models that welcome and embrace women in these situations, even as we work to bring the gospel to bear on those situations so that change can happen if and when it’s appropriate.

    • B.R.

      Hear, hear! These lamentations will do us no good — our response to the information stated in this post should be: how can we, as the body of Christ, love this world?

    • Anonymous

      So very true, Rachael. If 50% of the adults in America are not married, and 1 in 4 households with children under 18 in the U.S. are headed by single mothers, then our churches need to figure out how to reach out, or we are ignoring a huge population. And probably half that population identifies as Christian.

    • Anonymous

      Rachael, one more thing. I did a study of the 10-mile radius around my church and discovered there were 14,000 single mother-headed homes with children under 18. In my county, according to church demographers, approximately 7,000 of these women are Christians. If we embraced them our mega-church would more than double, but unfortunately I cannot get our pastors to catch that vision. I’ve had to find another smaller church that does.

    • Josh

      I think churches almost universally accept and embrace women in these situations. I think that is part of what encourages women in this direction.

      The solution has nothing to do with catered ministries and happy feelings; we need to embrace traditional marriage and discourage anything outside of it, and we need to stop being afraid of offending people in the process.

      • Anonymous

        Josh, your attitude is exactly what drives women and their children out of the church when they get abandoned or their husbands commit repeated adultery.

        A woman in our church had a husband who was chronically unfaithful. She went to the pastors who supported her getting a divorce, but when she finally broke the news to her small group Bible study, they had the same attitude you have: They felt that being nice to her would send the wrong message to their children. After her announcement, they never invited her or her children to another social function or birthday party. Imagine the affect this had on her children’s faith.

        It is important to keep the children in the church after a divorce, or you will be responsible for a generation of de-churched and finally un-churched people.

        • Josh


          Your response doesn’t line up to what I said. Not once did I condone men who cheat on their wives. But wives who divorce frivolously should NOT be embraced and accepted for doing so, yet it happens all the time in churches. A frivolous divorce does not mean adultery. A frivolous divorce is similar to the one in the movie Fireproof. And yet, the husband even in that movie is the ‘bad guy’.

          I’m sorry that your church treats women poorly, but most churches treat men poorly. Women get a pass because serial monogamy is considered acceptable.

          • Christian Vagabond

            Serial monogamy means that you’re committed to just one person, so I’m not sure what your problem with it is. “Mono” means “one.”

            • Josh

              And therein lies the problem. You have taken Monogamy to be sacred, while ignoring whether it is a once-for-life relationship or a SERIES of them, as if the distinction did not matter.

              In practice, many women leave their husbands because their husbands to keep them happy. They are not questioned very often by churches, who often believe it is the men who have caused the problems. -Serial- Monogamy is nothing less than sinful promiscuity. It would be better in most instances not to have any of these people remarry.

              Only one kind of Monogamy is sacred.

            • Christian Vagabond

              Not sure why la woman would leave their husband just to make the guy happy. But what you’re describing is called life. People meet, fall in love, and even if they’re committed to one another, sometimes things go bad and a souse dies or files for divorce. What you’re asking for is a sin-free world with guaranteed bliss.

          • Anonymous

            Josh, you are not in a position to judge who is divorcing frivolously.

            For example, if a man or woman is married to someone who is doing felony behavior such as child porn, child abuse, sex offending, illicit drugs, assault and battery, domestic violence, etc., often they won’t tell the church or their friends.

            They won’t tell the church because the church is a mandated reporter in most states, and they don’t want their own reputation or the reputation of their children damaged.

            I’ve known women who have kept silent on the criminal behavior of their spouse for decades — both before and after their divorce.

            It’s true that there is frivolous divorce in the church, but I rarely see it. And that’s what the data show too. About 50% of marriages end in divorce, but among Christians who attend church weekly, it’s only 38%.

            So you are in the position to judge others for their divorce.

  • Henry

    Tim Bayly had some helpful comments on this news piece a few days ago, drawing also on the wisdom of Calvin:

    • Anonymous

      I wish the Bayly Boys had the same class their dad did. I miss Joe Bayly.

  • Dean P

    John M: I meant Gen Xer men. It is the Silent Generation and Greatest Generation parents who are most Gen Xer’s parents. They kind of had the view that as long as their kids got any college degree they could get a job doing just about anything. We now know that this is not the case. And because of the glass ceiling most Gen X and even more so with Millennial females deliberately chose specialized and professional jobs to go in because they knew those positions would allow them to make the most noticeable difference. Gen X guys were duped into thinking (also because of the glass ceiling) that they could still get a job with a philosophy degree.

    • JohnM

      Dean P, Okay, I assumed you meant Gen X and were using the Silent Generation synonymously in this case. Both have something in common, as both are kind of forgotten generations – the Silent Generation sandwiched between “The Greatest Generation” and the Boomers, and Gen X between the Boomers and the Millenials.

      Either way though, my skepticism is the same. Did Gen X females really pursue proffesional degrees more than than did males (and was there really a glass ceiing by the time they came along?), and were Gen X men really “duped”? By the time Gen Xers were in college the days were well past when any kind of college degree at all was a ticket to success, and that was pretty well known.

  • Anonymous

    I’m fairly familiar with the stats for never-married and divorced mothers in America, and some of the data in the post didn’t ring true. I dug into the actual study to get a clarification (p. 19).


    Never-married moms: 49% high school or less; 40% some college; 11% college grad

    Divorced moms: 35% high school or less; 42% some college; 23% college grad

  • Stan

    One thing is for sure, all these moms definitely need to be dependent on the grace of God. A helpful free eBook at ~ “The Value of a Praying Mother”:

  • Josh

    Man-bashing is not the answer to this. This is following in the stated and pursued goals of feminism, and the blame needs to go where it is due: feminists.

    Men are sued out of their minds in divorce courts and can be divorced for literally any reason; including their wives not being happy. Nearly 100% of the time, the mother will have the children, the house, and a sizable portion of the ex-husbands income for decades after that. The husband may, at best, have a few Pastors tell him to Man Up. It was his fault the divorce ended anyway, probably.

    This is the usual Father’s Day sermon (thank God it isn’t at my church, but it’s what I usually read on Father’s Day). This is opposed to Mother’s Day, which usually tells men to Man Up and support Mothers. Feminism has infiltrated the church, and so when we are presented with explicitly feminist out-workings, we, like feminists, blame men for anything bad that happens.

    I’m sick of men being bashed for a problem that did not originate with them. I’m sick of traditional marriage being ostracized by ignoring verses in Scripture that speak of husband-leadership. I’m sick of women thinking men need to make the first move before they should be allowed to take responsibility. I’m sick of statistics like this being blamed on men, when in reality, it is typically women who initiate divorce and typically women who want to engage in serial monogamy throughout their college years, with Christian approval!

    I’m finding more and more men (and women!) agree with this analysis over the typical “Men are lazy” approach, which is not the correct diagnosis and leads to the wrong solution.

    • Anonymous

      Josh, I saw and replied to your comment above, and now I understand where you are coming from.

      Your comment here is full of exaggerations. The court system bends over backwards to try to award 50%-50% custody to the mother and father. They do their best to make sure even the most negligent and immoral parent gets some percentage of custody or at least visitation. In many states, nothing short of a forensic evaluation requiring hours of examination by a court-appointed psychologist can strip a pedophile of a his parental rights.

      Child support is based on mathematical formulas involving percentage of custody and income. So now days more and more women are paying child support to their ex-husbands even if the children live with them.

      • Dean P

        John: It was the tail end of Gen X that the females were pursuing professional degrees (my wife was at the very end and double majored in a corporate communications and marketing) But before her age group it was mostly about the female lit degree. It was the millennial females who really went after the professional degrees. I was at the middle of Gen X and it was about my junior year in college in 1993 that we all started realizing that post graduation wasn’t going to be all it was cracked up to be. This was also around the time that “Reality Bites” and other films were commenting on the useless degree phenomenon. But I kid you not before this we really did think that we would be able to walk out with a degree and get a job almost immediately. By the time we realized it it was too late. Now guys with bachelors and maters degrees in engineering can’t get jobs. I have family friend who finished a maters in engineering two years ago and a neighbor with a degree in civil engineering who still can’t get hired. But it is a different story with the ladies.

        • JohnM

          Dean, Thanks for some further explanation. I honestly sympathize, but I can tell you what you are describing was already somewhat the case when I graduated from college in 1981. I will say I believe at that time most engineering majors could get jobs as engineers.

          On the other hand, with only a bachelors the jobs most liberal arts and humanities majors could get were the ones they could have gotten without any college degree. That was a circumstance that came about well before the ’90s and so should have been no big suprise to Gen X. That’s my point.

          Now I’m curious, what are the professional degrees that late Gen X/millenial women are earning and the men aren’t?

      • Josh

        @Anonymous: I am not exaggerating. Here are some sources for you:

        Courts bend over backwards to give whatever they can to the mothers.

        • Anonymous

          Josh, if you are a Dalrock fan, that says a lot.

          Not many Christians know that there’s an entire world of MRA bloggers who shame, blame, judge, and condemn women for divorce — and rarely if ever take any responsibility themselves. If you suggest that they might have some fault, they often explode in rage. Many of them are bullies. They rarely say anything about men’s responsibility to love their wives as Christ loved the church.

        • Anonymous

          In fact, Dalrock regularly laughs at Christians for caring about women and telling men they have to treat women with respect. He blasts Gospel Coalition author Mark Driscoll in multiple blog posts.

    • Christian Vagabond

      What’s wrong with women getting good jobs? That has nothing to do with divorce, child support, etc. I think you’re bringing a lot of baggage to this thread that has nothing to do with the topic.

      • Josh

        When did I say I was opposed to women getting good jobs? In many traditional families, women worked good jobs to help support the family. The difference is in leadership, which is either Biblical or not.

        But please tell me where you think I condemned the idea of women having good jobs.

        Also, I have no personal baggage myself. I am happily married to a beautiful woman. I have, however, seen the utter destruction that no-fault divorce has wrecked upon people. Read the comments about how men are blamed for women being the primary providers in households and how bad men are for this, if you’d like to see how my comments are tied into the thread of discussion. Better still would be to read Scripture related to headship, leadership, etc in families.

        • Christian Vagabond

          The topic of the article is changes in women’s employment and income relative to men’s. All of the tangents you’ve added about divorce and man-shaming pastors has nothing to do with the article. If it’s not a personal issue for you, then why bring all of these things up?If you’re happily married, then great. But this isn’t a thread about being happily married, either.

          • JohnM

            Christian Vagabond, I don’t think it was Josh who added the tangent. He initially responded to a couple other comments that veered off and it took off from there.

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  • Trevor Minyard

    I love you mom!

  • John S

    ahh, the problem runs deeper.

    man – cursed is the ground because of you.

    woman – Your desire shall be against your husband, and he shall rule over you (translation mine, per original language. Or ‘for’ as in ‘I’m desirous for your position’. Not sure how it makes sense that the curse is ‘you will be for/love/desire your husband’. Certainly women can love their husbands too much, as an idol, but is that really the problem we see with humanity – women love their men too much?)

    Broad brush (no pun intended!): Women are eager to get the power men have (whether overtly or subtley), men have been all too willing to give it because work and leadership is hard and they can get by with it easier now.

    Our government has not done little to discourage deadbeat dad’s and single mom’s. Dad’s use the system, up to and including prison to provide them 3 hots and a cot, TV and weight room, street cred status, hang with their friends. Mom’s use the system, have more kids without a dad around and keep getting free gov’t housing, food, phones, education, etc. It’s a lifestyle and cycle that’s hard to break out of.

    Our society is against traditional marriage, making any and everything equal in importance and value and devaluing maleness and femaleness.

    Caring for single moms regardless of circumstance is good for the church, but the best thing we can do is model God’s design for marriage and family, not as we are better than you but this will be better for you. And these folks must know of the bad news – they are sinners – before they will have any inclination to repent or any understanding why the news is good. We can’t just hug them and give them money. They must know adultery is a sin, that is part of love. Men must know laziness and not taking responsibility are sins. Then they can learn about forgiveness and repentence. I’m not advocating preach them hellfire and brimstone when they come thru the door, but so many churches won’t even talk about sin anymore. It makes the cross less and less significant until it is meaningless.