More and more mothers, whether they wear a wedding ring or not, are becoming their family’s breadwinner.
An analysis of 2011 U.S. Census data found that 40 percent of households rely on mom as the primary or sole breadwinner. That’s a massive increase from 1960, when the figure was a mere 11 percent.
This trend won’t shock a lot of Americans. They already see it within their own homes or those of their neighbors. Plenty of mommies are better educated and better compensated than their husbands, and a growing numbers of daddies gladly accept that it is their duty, too, to change diapers and do carpool duty.
But here is the more sobering tale within the data: Nearly two-thirds of these “sole or primary” breadwinning women fit that description because they are the only one working in their household. These are primarily the single mothers. And they tend to be far less educated, and to be black or Hispanic. Their median household income was $23,000.
Compare that to the families studied where it was a married woman who earned more than her mate. Those homes had a median income of $80,000, well above the national median for all households of $57,100.
The most relevant message behind the study is not so much about marriage as about the growing economic divide in this country. If we understand that, we might just agree on policies that can address the problem.
Demographically, these single mothers are a growing and younger percentage of the population. They are the nation’s future, and it’s not a promising one.
Yet it is virtually impossible to bring up the topic of single mothers, whether in Congress or at the dinner table, without inviting a howling lecture. Everybody’s got a convenient scapegoat to blame, and their certitude of their own uprightness permits them to do absolutely nothing to change the status quo. Except to call for more discipline imposed on the already unfortunate.
Attitudes about poorer families feed into the politics of welfare reform, food stamp allocation, education grants, fair wage policy and childcare subsidies.
Concern, when it’s genuine, is not misplaced. Moralizing doesn’t help.
It’s not the fact that these women are unmarried with children that drives their household poverty. It’s their lack of education and too few jobs, including for the equally under-educated men who are most likely to marry them.
Low-income families are more likely to divorce. Arguments and stress about money, after all, are often a contributing factor in divorce.