NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Modern Views on Mothers as Breadwinners

June 21, 2013

A record 40 percent 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, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The share was just 11 percent in 1960.

These "breadwinner moms" are made up of two very different groups:

  • 5.1 million (37 percent) are married mothers who have a higher income than their husbands, and 8.6 million (63 percent) are single mothers.
  • The income gap between the two groups is quite large.
  • 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.

The impact the recession may have had on this trend is unclear. However, a Pew Research Center survey conducted in November 2012 found that:

  • Mothers' views about whether and how much they would like to work had changed significantly since 2007 (before the recession officially began).
  • The share of mothers saying their ideal situation would be to work full time increased from 20 percent in 2007 to 32 percent in 2012.
  • The share saying they would prefer not to work at all fell from 29 percent to 20 percent.

While the vast majority of Americans (79 percent) reject the idea that women should return to their traditional roles, Pew finds that the public still sees mothers and fathers in a different light when it comes to evaluating the best work-family balance for children. About half (51 percent) of survey respondents say that children are better off if a mother is home and doesn't hold a job, while just 8 percent say the same about a father.

The public's opinions about unmarried mothers also differ by party affiliation and race.

  • Republicans (78 percent) are more likely than Democrats (51 percent) or independent voters (65 percent) to say that the growing number of children born to unwed mothers is a big problem.
  • Whites are more likely than non-whites to view it as a big problem (67 percent vs. 56 percent).
  • The views of men and women on this issue are the same.

Source: Wendy Wang, Kim Parker and Paul Taylor, "Breadwinner Moms: Mothers Are the Sole or Primary Provider in Four-in-Ten Households with Children; Public Conflicted about the Growing Trend," Pew Research Center, May 29, 2013.


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