What Do These Numbers Say About Working Moms?


Moms are increasingly becoming the breadwinners in U.S. households, as a Pew study finds that 40 percent of households with children under 18 have mothers as the primary or sole income earner.  This number is markedly larger than in previous years, nearly triple from 1960.

The idea of growing numbers of mothers as breadwinners paints a larger picture of an evolving American social structure.

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In households where moms out-earned their male counterparts, the median income for those family tended to be higher than those families with dad as the lead earner. The median income for families with children is $57,000, and yet for families where the mother’s income is higher, that median figure goes up to $80,000. However, the picture was more grim for single mothers, with the median income at $23,000.

These groups also tended to be divided along specific demographic lines. Where mothers out-earn their husband, the mom tends to be white and college-educated. Single mothers, though, are more likely to be black or Hispanic.

As for the bulk of mothers themselves, they seem to be in-between wanting to work full-time and not wanting to work at all. Thirty-two percent of mothers report that working full-time would be their ideal situation, up from 20 percent in 2007, and 20 percent report that they would prefer not to work at all, a decrease of 9 percent from six years ago.

Americans seem to support the balance indicated by the previous numbers, since while 79 percent of Americans do not feel women should return to their traditional roles, 74 percent note the strain it places on raising children, feeling that it has become harder. Half of respondents felt that it also made marriages more difficult, with 51 percent also feeling that children are better off if the mother does not work. At the same time, a large majority conceded the economic realities of the situation, with two-thirds saying that a working mother has allowed families to live more comfortably.

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Perhaps most interesting is whether or not the public feels that single mothers are a ‘big problem.’ For the most part, Americans think they are, as 64 percent agreed. However, the demographic biases are revealing. The number increases to 67 percent among white respondents, and declines to 56 percent among non-white Americans. The number further decreased among young people, with only 42 percent of 19-28 year olds calling single mothers a ‘big problem’. Conversely, older Americans were much more alarmed by this, with 74 percent heralding it as a ‘big problem.’

These numbers were collected from Pew’s telephoning of 1,003 adults in the U.S. and analysis of past census data.

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