There’s nothing new about women bringing home the bacon. But a new study shows that women are now the leading – or only — breadwinners in 40 percent of American households. According to a Pew Research Center, women now earn more than men in almost a quarter of U.S. households. But the research also shows a disproportionate amount of households are now ran by unwed mothers.
- 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% to 25%).
- 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% in 1960 to 23% in 2011. In two-parent families today, 61% have a mother whose education level is similar to her husband’s, 23% have a mother who is better educated than her husband, and 16% have a father who is better educated than his wife.
- Most people reject the idea that it is bad for a marriage if a wife out-earns her husband. When asked if they agree or disagree that it is generally better for a marriage if a husband earns more than his wife, some 28% of survey respondents say they agree and 63% disagree. When a similar question was asked in 1997, 40% said they agreed. In the new survey, adults with a high school diploma or less were twice as likely as those with a college degree (35% vs. 18%) to say it is generally better for a marriage if a husband out-earns a wife. There were no significant differences between men and women on this question.
- 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% in 1960 to 44% in 2011. During the same period, the share of single mothers who had children from previous marriages has gone down from 82% to 50%.
- 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%) are ages 30 and younger, six-in-ten are either black (40%) or Hispanic (24%), and nearly half (49%) have a high school education or less. Their median family income was $17, 400 in 2011, the lowest among all families with children.