Are families with a mom as the primary breadwinner the new normal in the United States? According to a new report, that’s truer now than ever before.
In a report released yesterday, The Center for American Progress found that in 2015 42 percent of working mothers were the sole or primary breadwinner in their families, meaning that they were responsible for 50 percent or more of their family’s earnings. Another 22.4 percent were co-breadwinners, responsible for 25 percent to 49 percent of all earnings. To give you a little perspective, the percentage of families with a mother as the breadwinner was 11 percent in 1960 and 34 percent in 2000. (These numbers also reflect a changing American family, as the number of single mothers has almost doubled since 1975, going from 14.6 percent to 26.4 percent.)
The report found some interesting differences based on geography, race and age. White women, for example, are the least likely to be the primary breadwinner when compared to black and Latina mothers. In fact, the percentage of white mothers who are the sole breadwinners in their families in 2015 (37.4 percent) is almost the same was it was for black women in 1970 (36.4 percent). Today, 70.7 percent of black mothers are the sole breadwinners.
In terms of geography, mothers in the Midwest were most likely to be the primary earner, while mothers on the west coast were the least likely. And finally, while younger mothers were more likely to be the primary breadwinner than older mothers, they were less likely to be co-breadwinners. Sarah Jane Glynn, the author of the report, theorizes that this may be partly due to the fact that younger women are more likely to be single mothers and that younger people tend to earn less than older people.
What this data tells us is that while it’s great that more women are working and earning more money, there are some significant issues at play here that should trouble us all. The fact that so many black and Latina mothers are sole breadwinners compared to white mothers is a clear sign of the institutional racism that the United States continues to struggle with. In addition, as Glynn says, “the fact that the nation’s workplace policies have not been updated to reflect the nature of today’s working families holds back working women, as well as men who have family caregiving responsibilities.”
With more breadwinning mothers than ever, our need to change America’s workplace and child care policies only becomes more urgent. We continue to be one of the few advanced economies that lack progressive, family-friendly workplace policies, and we should ashamed of that.