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The Importance of Breadwinning Mothers

A new CAP report highlights why the nation's labor standards need to be updated.

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The movement of women out of the home and into the paid labor force has changed the way families live and work today. The role of working mothers as breadwinners has received increased media and scholarly attention since the Center for American Progress first released “The New Breadwinners,” a chapter in 2009’s The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything. Through groundbreaking research, economist Heather Boushey empirically illustrated how women’s labor-force participation has grown dramatically over the past 50 years and that mothers are more likely to provide significant financial support to their families than ever before.

A new CAP report updates Boushey’s analysis using the most recent data available on the status of working mothers as breadwinners or co-breadwinners. We offer new insights into the demographics of mothers whose earnings help keep their families afloat. We find that the trends first identified in “The New Breadwinners” remain in effect but that breadwinning mothers are not all cut from the same cloth. We compare mothers who are single breadwinners, married breadwinners, married co-breadwinners, and married with no earnings along a number of demographics in order to better understand the patterns and context within which mothers combine wage earning with caregiving. We find notable differences among the groups in terms of family income, race and ethnicity, educational attainment, age, and the age of the youngest child.

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