Feature

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

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.)

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

11Percentage 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$23,000Median income of single mothers

$35,000Median income of single fathers

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

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

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

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

44Percentage of single mothers who have never been married

4Percentage of single mothers who were never married in 1960

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

63Percentage of Americans who disagree with that statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8Percentage 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

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