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More moms are family breadwinners than ever before, report says

Dec 20, 2016

More moms in the U.S. are the primary breadwinners for their households than ever before - earning as much as or more than their husbands. That's according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.

According to the analysis, 42% of mothers were primary or sole breadwinners for their families in 2015. And 22.4% of moms brought in between 25% and 49% of earnings. That's a slight increase from 2013, when a Pew Research Center study found 40% of moms were primary or sole breadwinners.

Research attributes the trend to a few different factors. Over the past few decades, more women have pursued higher levels of education. Women began graduating from college in greater numbers than men in 1985 and now earn more advanced degrees in many fields, according to The Washington Post.

Family dynamics and structures are also changing in U.S. households. In 2015, 65.5% of families with kids had married parents and there has been an increase in births to single mothers.

According to The New York Times:

It has become more acceptable and expected for married women to join the work force. It is also more common for single women to raise children on their own. Most of the mothers who are chief breadwinners for their families — nearly two-thirds — are single parents.

The Great Recession also had an impact on the labor force, with a lot of men working in industries hit hardest like construction and manufacturing. Philip Cohen is a University of Maryland sociologist who studies gender and family trends.

He told The Washington Post:

The decade of the 2000s witnessed the most rapid change in the percentage of married mothers earning more than their husbands of any decade since 1960. This reflects the larger job losses experienced by men at the beginning of the Great Recession. Also, some women decided to work more hours or seek better jobs in response to their husbands’ job loss, potential loss or declining wages.

And while having women in the role of full-time, stay-at-home mom is no longer a reality for most families in the U.S., there are households where mom is more likely to be the primary earner. Moms who have attained higher education are more likely to be breadwinners or co-breadwinners. And younger and lower-income women are more likely to be the primary or sole source of their family's income, according to the CAP report.

One thing that hasn't been influenced by the change is the gender pay gap. Although families are increasingly reliant on women's wages, the average full-time, year-round working woman earns only 80% of what the average man earns, and the rates are even lower for women of color.

Many workplaces also do not offer access to family-friendly policies like paid family leave. Sarah Jane Glynn is author of the study and a senior policy adviser at the Center for American Progress.

She said in a statement:

Women, and mothers in particular, have entered the paid labor force en masse, and there are no signs of that changing. At a time when women’s wages are so vital to keeping their families afloat, America cannot afford to sit idly by and do nothing. It is time to update the nation’s labor standards and put in place family- and worker-friendly policies to ensure that all working families have the supports they need.

You can read the full report from the Center for American Progress here.