The share of mothers who bring home the bacon is on the rise.
Four in 10 households with children under age 18 now include a mother who is either the sole or primary breadwinner for her family, according to a Pew Research Center report released Wednesday. This share, the highest on record, has quadrupled since 1960.
The shift reflects changing family dynamics.
It has become more acceptable and expected for married women to join the work force. At the same time, it is more common for single women to raise children on their own. Most of those mothers who are chief breadwinners for their families – nearly two-thirds – are single parents.
The recession may have also played a role in pushing women into primary earning roles, as men are disproportionately employed in industries like construction and manufacturing that bore the brunt of the layoffs during the downturn.
Women’s attitudes toward working have also changed in the last few years. In 2007, before the recession officially began, 20 percent of mothers told Pew that their ideal situation would be to work full-time rather than part-time or not at all. The share had risen to 32 percent by the end of 2012.
The public is still divided about whether is it a good thing for mothers to work. About half of Americans say that children are better off if their mother is at home and doesn’t have a job.
A new working paper by economists at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the National University of Singapore found that, in looking at the distribution of married couples by income of husband versus wife, there is a sharp drop-off in the number of couples in which the wife earns more than half of the household income. This suggests that the random woman and random man are much less likely to pair off if her income exceeds his, the paper says.
In certain ways, too, couples revert to more stereotypical sex roles when the wife brings in more money, with primary-breadwinning wives taking on a larger share of household work and child care.
“Our analysis of the time use data suggests that gender identity considerations may lead a woman who seems threatening to her husband because she earns more than he does to engage in a larger share of home production activities, particularly household chores,” the authors write.
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