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Pew-Breadwinner-Moms-2011-v-1960-May2013A new analysis of Census Data released by the Pew Research Center details a dramatic rise in the percentage of households with children that count the mother as the primary or sole source of family income. The study indicates [pdf] that the proportion of such households with the mother as primary or sole breadwinner has almost quadrupled in the past half-century or so, from 10.8% in 1960 to 40.4% in 2011. While the majority of those “breadwinner moms” are single mothers (63%), a significant 37% are married mothers who are pulling in more income than their spouses. An accompanying survey by Pew finds the public holds mixed feelings about this trend.

Two-thirds of respondents believe that the increasing number of women working for pay outside the home has made it easier for families to earn enough live comfortably. But, respondents are more likely to believe that women’s work outside the home has made it harder (50%) for marriages to be successful than easier (35%). And the public clearly thinks that this trend has made it harder (74%) rather than easier (19%) for parents to raise children.

These views may be evolving, though. Young adults (18-29) are less likely than their older counterparts (aged 30 and older) to believe that the increasing number of women working outside the home makes it harder for: parents to raise children (60% vs. 78%); marriages to be successful (36% vs. 54%); and families to earn enough live comfortably (18% vs. 30%).

A study released last year by Penn Schoen Berland in partnership with Burston-Marsteller found that in general, Americans believe it is better for both members of a household to work in paying jobs. According to Pew’s analysis, 58.6% of married couples with children under age 18 were dual-income families in 2011.

Looking at the demographics of “breadwinner moms,” the Pew study reveals that married mothers out-earning their husbands are more likely than the average mother to be slightly older, white, and college-educated. Single mothers, meanwhile, are more likely to be younger, black, or Hispanic, while being less likely to have a college degree.

Other Findings:

  • The median total family income for households where the mother out-earns the father was almost $80,000 in 2011. That’s significantly above the national median of $57,100 for households with children, and more than triple the median for families headed by a single mother ($23,000).
  • Total median family income was about $2,000 higher among households where the mother was the primary breadwinner than those where the father was the primary breadwinner ($79,800 vs. $78,000). It was about $10,000 higher than when their incomes are the same ($70,000).
  • In 2011, 23% of two-parent families had a mother with a higher degree of education than the father, up from 7% in 1960.
  • 51% of survey respondents believe that children are better off with the mother at home, compared to 34% who believe that children are just as well off it the mother works. When it comes to fathers at home, though, only 8% believe the children are better off, while 76% feel that children are just as well off it the father works.
  • 63% disagree that it is generally better for a marriage if a husband earns more than his wife.
  • 64% of respondents feel that the growing number of children born to unmarried mothers is a “big problem,” down from 71% in 2007. 13% believe it’s not a problem, up from 8%.

About the Data: The report, which can be linked to above, contains a detailed methodology. With regards to the public opinion data, they are based on an omnibus survey, conducted April 25 to 28, 2013, with a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults living in the continental United States. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (500) and cell phone (503, including 237 without a landline phone). The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). Interviews were done in English by Princeton Data Source. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

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