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The rise of the breadwinning mother: By the numbers
A fascinating new Pew study finds that women out-earn men in 40 percent of households
 
Since the 1960s, the number of households where the mother is the sole breadwinner has risen nearly 30 percent.
Since the 1960s, the number of households where the mother is the sole breadwinner has risen nearly 30 percent. Bryan Allen/Corbis

On Wednesday, the Pew Social & Demographic Trends Project released a new snapshot of today's American family, and it looks pretty different than the Leave It to Beaver model. More married mothers are working outside the home and out-earning their husbands, while the number of single mothers is also on the rise.

"The decade of the 2000s witnessed the most rapid change in the percentage of married mothers earning more than their husbands of any decade since 1960," University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen tells The Washington Post. "This reflects the larger job losses experienced by men at the beginning of the Great Recession. Also, some women decided to work more hours or seek better jobs in response to their husbands' job loss, potential loss or declining wages."

The so-called "man-cession" is part of the equation, but "the trend is being driven mostly by long-term demographic changes, including higher rates of education and labor force participation dating back to the 1960s women's movement," says The Associated Press' Hope Yen. "Demographers say the change is all but irreversible and is likely to bring added attention to child-care policies as well as government safety nets for vulnerable families."

And it seems Americans don't know what to make of the findings. People's attitudes haven't changed as quickly as society has, Pew reports. For example, just 21 percent say the trend toward more mothers of young children working outside the home is a good thing for society. "Maybe in the future this will just be the norm and it won't be unusual to anybody," says Kim Parker, associate director of the Pew Social & Demographic Trends Project. "But now, the public is still working through a lot of this stuff."

Here's a look at today's families, and the rise of the "breadwinner mom," by the numbers: (The earnings numbers are mostly from 2011 Census data; the polling on attitudes are from 2013.)

40
Percentage of U.S. households with children under 18 where the mother is the sole or primary breadwinner

11
Percentage of U.S. households where that was true in 1960

5.1 million
"Breadwinner moms" who are married and earn more than their husbands

8.6 million
"Breadwinner moms" who are single mothers

$57,100
Median income of all U.S. households with kids under 18

$50,054
Median income of all U.S. households

$79,800
Median income of two-parent families where mothers out-earn their husbands

$78,000
Median income of two-parent families where fathers out-earn their wives

$70,000
Median income of two-parent families where both parents earn the same amount

$50,000
Median income of just the married mothers who out-earn their husbands

$23,000
Median income of single mothers

$35,000
Median income of single fathers

$29,000
Median income of single mothers who are divorced, separated, or widowed

$17,400
Median income of single mothers who were never married

46
Percentage of never-married single moms who are 30 or under

40
Percentage of never-married single moms who are black. Another 24 percent are Hispanic.

44
Percentage of single mothers who have never been married

4
Percentage of single mothers who were never married in 1960

61
Percentage of Americans who say this rise in kids born to unwed mothers is a big problem

71
Percentage of Americans who said the rise of out-of-wedlock births was a big problem in 2007

24.3
Percentage of all married households where the wife out-earns the husband

22.5
Percentage of married households with under-18 kids where the mother out-earns the father

6.2
Percentage of all married households in 1960 where the wife out-earned the husband

6.7
Percentage of married households with under-18 kids where the mom is the sole earner

1.6
Percentage of such households where the mom was the sole earner in 1960

31.2
Percentage of married households with under-18 kids where the dad is the sole earner

69.7
Percentage of such households where the dad was the sole earner in 1960

28
Percentage of Americans who say it is better for a marriage if the husband out-earns the wife

63
Percentage of Americans who disagree with that statement

35
Percentage of respondents with high school diplomas or less who agreed that its better for husbands to out-earn wives

40
Percentage of all respondents who agreed with that statement in 1997

67
Percentage of respondents who say moms working outside the home makes its easier for families to earn enough to live comfortably

50
Percentage of respondents who say moms working outside the home makes it harder for marriage so be successful

74
Percentage of respondents who say moms working outside the home makes it harder for parents to raise kids

51
Percentage of respondents who say kids are better off if the mother stays home

34
Percentage of respondents who say kids are just as well off if the mother works outside the home

76
Percentage of respondents who say kids are just as well off if the father works outside the home

8
Percentage of respondents who says kids are better off if the father stays home

Sources: The Associated Press, Bloomberg, The Los Angeles Times, Marketplace, Pew, The Washington Post

 
Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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