Record number of moms are breadwinners

More moms are bringing home the bacon (or black bean veggie burgers for you herbivores out there) than ever before according to a new study out by the Pew Research Center today.

Mothers are now the primary or only breadwinner in 40 percent of households with kids under 18. In 1960, the share was 11 percent.

“This overall trend has to do with women’s increasing presence in the workplace. That’s number one. Number two is the increasing number of children born to unmarried mothers," says Wendy Wang, lead author of the study and research associate at the Pew Research Center.

But not all super moms are created equal. There are two types of working moms that make up the now record share of breadwinners. The first is married moms who out-earn their husbands. They make up 37 percent of breadwinner moms and have a median family income of almost $80,000 a year, while the national median is $57,100. The majority are white and almost half have a college degree.

The second group is made up of single mothers. They are the bulk of breadwinner moms (63 percent) and have a significantly lower median family income than the other group of moms: $23,000 a year. That’s below the poverty line for a family with three or more kids. The majority of these moms are black or Hispanic and do not have a college degree.

“There is a big income gap between these two groups of mothers,” says Wang. And when you look at the single mothers that have never been married (as opposed to those who are divorced or widowed) the gap grows even larger. “Median family income for never-married moms is only about $17,000 per year. That’s really at the bottom of incomes.”

And the share of never-married mothers is going up and up, according to the study. In 1960, only 4 percent of single mothers had never been married. Now? About 44 percent. And Wang says this trend has real economic consequences.

“If we have more families that are led by single moms, and these mothers have lower incomes, this will drive down income for all families," she says.

In other words, the median family income of Americans goes down as we add more never-married, single-mother-led households to our ranks. Conversely, the moms who make more than their husbands have higher family incomes than male-breadwinner households.

“They actually have the highest family income, even higher than the families where the dad is making more than the mother. This group could increase overall family income," Wang says.

For more on the study, click here.

About the author

Jolie Myers is a former associate producer for Marketplace's Wealth & Poverty Desk.


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