Pew reports on ‘Breadwinner Moms’

Mothers sole or primary provider in 4 of 10 households with children
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Photo: Source: Pew Research, License: N/A

Mothers as sole or primary provider, 1960 to 2011

On May 29, Pew Research Center released “Breadwinner Moms” a report by Wendy Wang, Kim Parker and Paul Taylor. The following are key excerpts:

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 groups differ in other ways as well. 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 growth of both groups of mothers is tied to women’s increasing presence in the workplace. Women make up almost of half (47 percent) of the U.S. labor force today, and the employment rate of married mothers with children has increased from 37 percent in 1968 to 65 percent in 2011.
A new Pew Research Center survey finds that the public remains of two minds about the gains mothers have made in the workplace — most recognize the clear economic benefits to families, but many voice concerns about the toll that having a working mother may take on children or even marriage. About three-quarters of adults (74 percent) say the increasing number of women working for pay has made it harder for parents to raise children, and half say that it has made marriages harder to succeed.
At the same time, two-thirds say it has made it easier for families to live comfortably.
On the topic of single mothers, most Americans (64 percent) say that this growing trend is a “big problem;” however, the share who feel this way is down from 71 percent in 2007. Also, young adults are less concerned than older adults about the trend. About four in 10 adults under age 30 (42 percent) view it as a big problem, compared with 65 percent of those in their 30s and 40s and 74 percent of adults who are 50 and older.
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.

Other key findings

* Both groups of breadwinner mothers, married
and single, have grown in size in the past five decades. Of all households with children younger than 18, the share of married mothers who out-earn their husbands has gone up from 4% in 1960 to 15% in 2011, nearly a fourfold increase. During the same period, the share of families led by a single mother has more than tripled (from 7 percent to 25 percent).
* The total family income is higher when the mother, not the father, is the primary breadwinner. In 2011, the median family income was nearly $80,000 for couples in which wife is the primary breadwinner, about $2,000 more than it was for couples in which husband is the primary breadwinner, and $10,000 more than for couples in which spouses’ income is the same.
* Married mothers are increasingly better educated than their husbands. Even though a majority of spouses have a similar educational background, the share of couples in which the mother has attained a higher education than her spouse has gone up from 7 percent in 1960 to 23 percent in 2011. In two-parent families today, 61 percent have a mother whose education level is similar to her husband’s, 23 percent have a mother who is better educated than her husband, and 16 percent have a father who is better educated than his wife.
* Today’s single mothers are much more likely to be never married than were single mothers in the past. The share of never married mothers among all single mothers has increased from 4 percent in 1960 to 44 percent in 2011. During the same period, the share of single mothers who had children from previous marriages has gone down from 82 percent to 50 percent.
* Never married mothers have a distinctive profile. Compared with single mothers who are divorced, widowed or separated, never married mothers are significantly younger, disproportionally non-white, and have lower education and income. Close to half of never married mothers in 2011 (46 percent) are ages 30 and younger, six in 10 are either black (40 percent) or Hispanic (24 percent), and nearly half (49 percent) have a high school education or less. Their median family income was $17, 400 in 2011, the lowest among all families with children.

Characteristics of married mothers who out-earn their husbands

Married mothers who out-earn their husbands are a highly educated group. Nearly half (49 percent) have a college degree or higher. This share is significantly higher than it is among women whose husbands are the primary breadwinners (37 percent) and among those who make the same level of income as their husbands (39 percent).
About 65 percent of married mothers who out-earn their husbands are white; this share is higher than the average of all mothers (60 percent), but slightly lower than it is among married mothers whose husbands make more (67 percent).
Married black mothers are more likely to be the primary breadwinner than to be mothers whose husbands have a higher income. The share of black mothers among those who out-earn their husbands is 10 percent, compared with 6 percent among couples where the husband is the primary breadwinner.
Among married couples with children, the total family income is highest when the mother, not the father, is the primary provider. In 2011, the median family income is nearly $80,000 for couples in which wife is the primary breadwinner, about $2,000 more than it is for couples in which husband is the primary breadwinner and $10,000 more than it is for couples in which the spouses’ incomes are identical.
This is related to the employment arrangements between the couples. In families where the mother out-earns the father, about seven in 10 (71 percent) have two working parents and 22 percent consist of couples in which the mother is the sole earner of the family. However, when the father out-earns the mother, he is more likely to be the sole breadwinner.

Characteristics of single mothers

Compared with all mothers with children under age 18, single mothers overall are younger, black or Hispanic, and less likely to have a college degree.
However, there are significant differences between single mothers who have never married and those who have children from previous marriages. Never married mothers are significantly younger: About 46 percent of them are ages 30 or younger; and nearly half are in their 30s and 40s. By contrast, only 11 percent of divorced, separated or widowed mothers are ages 30 or younger. A majority of them are in their 30s through age 46 (67 percent), and about 22 percent are ages 47 to 65.
Never married mothers are disproportionally racial and ethnic minorities. As of 2011, about 40 percent of never married mothers were black (compared with 12 percent of all mothers), 24 percent were Hispanic (compared with 19 percent of all mothers), and 32 percent were white (compared with 60 percent of all). There is much less of a racial skew among mothers who are divorced, separated or widowed; 17 percent of them were black, 19 percent were Hispanic and 58 percent were white.
The two groups of single mothers also differ by education. Nearly half of never married mothers (49 percent) have a high school education or less, compared with 35 percent among mothers who are divorced, widowed or separated. The share of college graduates is higher among divorced mothers (23 percent) than among never married mothers (11 percent).
Even though single mothers as a whole have the lowest income among all families with children, never married single mothers are particularly disadvantaged economically. In 2011, the median family income for never married mothers was $17,400, only slightly over the poverty threshold of $15,504 for families with one adult and one child, but below $18,123, the threshold for families with one adult and two children.

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