New ‘Breadwinner Moms’ Aren’t Necessarily Well-Off

Breadwinner Mom

Between recent headlines about the new “breadwinner moms” and the rise of two powerful working moms in the tech industry (Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg), it appears that earning power and financial status might be changing course for the American mom.

Before we mark this transition down in history, however, let’s take a closer look at what at these stats actually mean for mothers.

According “Breadwinner Moms,” a 2013 study from Pew Research, four in 10 households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary income for the family. This demonstrates that a significant shift has occurred in family finances over the past 50 some-odd years – in 1960, just over one in every 10 households had a woman as the primary breadwinner. This point was highly publicized, but one stat alone doesn’t tell the full story. These so-called breadwinner moms can be broken into two groups with drastically different lifestyles which are heavily influenced by demographics and education.

Married Breadwinner Moms

On the one hand, we have the married mothers who earn a higher annual salary than their husbands. This group is fairly well off, bringing in around $80,000 in family income per year, which is well above the national median income for families with children ($57,100). It’s important to note that these well-off, married working mothers belong to a very specific demographic group: they are disproportionately older, white and college-educated.

Single Breadwinner Moms

But the more common scenario for breadwinner moms and their families is much different. Two-thirds of the moms who bring in primary or sole income for their family identify themselves as single mothers. The median family income for this group is $23,000, which hovers just slightly above the poverty threshold for a family of four. So while these moms are “bringing home the bacon” so to speak, they are still struggling to make ends meet for their family. Demographically speaking, single mothers are younger, black or Hispanic and less likely to be college-educated.

Moms’ Financial Woes

A separate survey from MassMutual points out that many American mothers express anxiety about their financial situation. Just 24% of moms surveyed said they are satisfied with their financial situation. A quarter of moms said they are struggling to make ends meet or are worried about their financial future.

Perceptions of Working Moms

The number of employed married mothers in the US has risen significantly from 37% in 1968 to 65% in 2011. Despite that hike, the American public is still split in its perception of moms who work. While two-thirds of respondents said that with mothers working it is easier for families to live comfortably, half said that children are better off if the mother is at home. About three-quarters of respondents say that the increase in working women has made it harder for parents to raise children and half say that it makes marriages harder.

For more info on how modern American families deal with money matters, stay tuned for the rest of our Women and Money series.


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