Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

It's hard, at first glance, not to feel wonderfully liberated by this statistic: According to a new study, 40 per cent of U.S. homes with kids under the age of 18 now have moms bringing home the biggest paycheque. That's a quadrupling since 1960, and not that far away from the 50-per-cent mark. After-work cocktails, all around.

That is, if you're a breadwinning mom who can afford them.

In fact, underneath that big number are two stories about very distinct mothers. In the cocktail-sipping group are the 5.1-million well-educated, married moms out-earning their husbands and doing quite well. In two-parent households with a breadwinning moms, the median household income was actually $2,000 higher (U.S.) than those with a father as the primary earner, and $10,000 higher than couples with both partners earning about the same, according to data from the Pew Research Center. And they are already doing pretty well, relatively speaking: The median total family income for these households was $80,000 in 2011, according to Pew. That's much better than the U.S. median of $51,700 for all families with kids.

Story continues below advertisement

For the other group of women in this story, the household budget is significantly smaller and definitely tighter. Single moms account for 63 per cent of breadwinning mothers. They are younger, less educated and more likely to be black or Hispanic. And their annual median income is much smaller – roughly $23,000.

As the gender gap between men and women narrows, this is the real gap society needs to worry about. Yes, people are still pretty attached to the idea of mom baking apple pie and greeting the kids at the school bus – 51 per cent in the survey said that kids are better off with mom at home. (Dad can keep his briefcase – only 8 per cent feel the same way about him.) But people can wax nostalgic, that mother ship has sailed.

But let's be honest, society is only idealizing the "right" kind of mom. In the study, 64 per cent of Americans said that the growing trend of single mothers was "a big problem." This, the study says, is down from 71 per cent in 2007, and young people are even less likely to say the same.

The study doesn't clarify the nature of the "big problem." But the inference is that they mean on moral grounds or for the sake of the children raised in these households.

And they're right – when studies come back with these kinds of numbers, there is a problem: Too many households with female breadwinners are living in poverty, and these families need social policy, workplaces and an education system that supports them. It's often believed that the success of educated, wealthier women will make things better for all women – improving conditions in the workplace, closing the gender wage gap and so on. But that's never really been true as much as we like to think. This study tells the story of two disparate groups, and they aren't gathering at book clubs together to talk about women's issues.

The fact is, some breadwinning mothers will go home tonight to debate whose turn it is to make dinner.

And many more breadwinning moms may be wondering how they'll pay for it.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies