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Idea of the Day: The Importance of Breadwinning Mothers

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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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To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Liz Bartolomeo (poverty, health care)
202.481.8151 or

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education)
202.478.6331 or

Print: Tanya Arditi (immigration, Progress 2050, race issues, demographics, criminal justice, Legal Progress)
202.741.6258 or

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues,, faith)
202.478.5328 or

Print: Elise Shulman (oceans)
202.796.9705 or

Print: Benton Strong (Center for American Progress Action Fund)
202.481.8142 or

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Jennifer Molina
202.796.9706 or

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or

Radio: Chelsea Kiene
202.478.5328 or


This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

For more from the same column, click here