Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Female Breadwinner Trend Continues, Workplace Policies Fail to Adapt
Press Release

RELEASE: Female Breadwinner Trend Continues, Workplace Policies Fail to Adapt

Washington, D.C. — In advance of the White House Summit on Working Families, the Center for American Progress today released a new report on the status of working mothers as breadwinners and co-breadwinners.

The report, “Breadwinning Mothers, Then and Now,” offers new insights into the demographics of mothers whose earnings help keep their families afloat. Author Sarah Jane Glynn  finds that the trend toward female breadwinning continues, in spite of changes to our economic landscape. As our analysis shows, working mothers are not just bringing home pocket money: Nearly two-thirds of mothers are primary or co-breadwinners for their families, including more than half of married mothers—52.9 percent—who bring home at least 25 percent of their families’ incomes.

Glynn notes that breadwinning mothers are not all cut from the same cloth. She compares mothers who are single breadwinners, married breadwinners, married co-breadwinners, and married mothers with no earnings along a number of demographics in order to better understand how women tend to combine working with caregiving. She finds notable differences among the groups in terms of family income, race and ethnicity, educational attainment, age, and the age of the youngest child. Key findings include:

  • Single breadwinning mothers are more than five times as likely—46.7 percent—to be in the bottom income quintile than are married breadwinning mothers—8.5 percent. Married mothers with zero earnings are approximately as likely to fall into the top earnings quintile as they are to fall into the bottom quintile. These mothers represent a much more economically heterogeneous group than the popular image of highly educated mothers in wealthy families “opting out” would imply.
  • African American women are more likely to be breadwinners or co-breadwinners than married mothers with zero earnings, reflecting their historically high labor-force participation rates.
  • While more than one-third of single breadwinning mothers have a college degree, another one-quarter have some college but no degree. At least part of this likely reflects the difficulty of completing an education while single parenting.
  • Single breadwinning mothers are the most likely among breadwinning mothers to be under age 30, with one in four, or 24.6 percent, falling into this age range. Conversely, only 1 in 10, or 10.3 percent, of married breadwinning mothers are under age 30.
  • Single breadwinners are the least likely to have children under age 6, and in only about one-third, or 37.9 percent, of these families is the youngest child below school age.

The report’s data make the case for why we need policies that catch up to the reality of today’s breadwinning mothers. In spite of the importance of mothers’ earnings to their families’ economic well-being, barriers persist for working women that prevent many of them from reaching their full potential. Much of this is because our nation’s policies have not been updated to reflect how our families live and work today. Our families no longer look the way they did in the 1960s and 1970s, but our workplace policies still do.

Programs that would provide universal access to workplace policies such as paid sick days and paid family and medical leave would help ensure that working mothers have the necessary tools to support their families economically while still being able to provide care. Passing legislation such as the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act—which would create a federal paid family and medical leave social insurance program—and the Healthy Families Act—which would guarantee workers the right to accrue paid sick days—would be an important way to begin updating our labor standards for the 21st century.

On Monday, the White House Council on Women and Girls, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the Center for American Progress will host a Summit on Working Families that will focus on creating a 21st century workplace that adapts to the new reality of today’s breadwinners. The president, vice president, first lady, and Dr. Jill Biden will participate in the summit to lift up the policy solutions that are essential to helping all workers ensure that our workplace policies match the new face of our families, workforce, and economy.

To speak with experts on this issue, please contact Madeline Meth at [email protected].