The New Breadwinners

From Heather Boushey, The New Breadwinners, in The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything, Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.

13 Responses to “The New Breadwinners”

  1. dave.s. Says:

    The ‘breadwinner mother’ category seems stupid to me: the life of the single mom who brings home all the bacon, but there’s damned little of it, seems very different from the woman who, married, brings home a substantial part of a much larger flitch.

  2. Elizabeth Says:

    Sure there are differences, but there are some important similarities too. As a working mom with a SAHD spouse, I have a lot more backup on the family side than a single mom, but I have the same issue that if I lost my job, we’d be up the creek.
    And particularly in the DC area, I know a lot of single moms by choice whose income is comparable or higher than mine.

  3. dave.s. Says:

    It seems to me that you, with a SAHD spouse, are more like Ward Cleaver than a single mom.

  4. landismom Says:

    I can just imagine the pipe you smoke when you come home after a hard day at the office, Elizabeth ;).
    It’s interesting to read this, minutes after reading the review of Gail Collins’ new book about the history of American women in the Times Book Review. It’s true that the single mom who is struggling on a too-small paycheck is not the same as the mom like Elizabeth, who is married to a SAHD, or to a mom like me, who earns roughly twice what her husband does. The story, though, that for the first time, women are now over half of the US workforce is a major transformation–and one that has occurred almost entirely in the space of my lifetime of forty-one years–is an important one, and demonstrates that we’re really just on the cusp of a major social transition.
    The presence of ‘breadwinner moms’ as a political force–though likely not a homogeneous one–means that we can expect to see an expansion of political dialogue about things like paid sick live to care for family members, the responsibility of the government to ensure enough child care exists, and the need for more family-friendly employment laws, generally.
    Let’s not forget that the kind of discrimination that forced women out of nursing, teaching and other professions when they got married is not that far away from us, generationally speaking. We may have come a long way, but we’ve still got a ways to go.

  5. jen Says:

    I have also seen this trend happening around me. People seem to be finding their niche in life based upon their personality and temperament, as opposed to gender. I wonder where it will lead us?
    Since I don’t yet understand the big picture right now I have a tendency to simply note small things that seem to be coming out of it. Most of these things seem to be stemming from women’s increased income and the leverage it brings them within the family.
    For example I’m told that recreational aviation is (pardon the pun) in a tailspin. The guys who used to spend all Sunday flying? These guys no longer have wives who put up with that level of absence.
    Ditto with golf — it’s drawing much lower numbers. Guys are spending more time with the kids (I would argue in part because the wives can insist on it).
    Young men today actually shop for their own clothes. It’s my speculation that, as gender-defined lines for many activities have shifted, shopping is no longer considered effeminate.
    I would put the same argument forth for many parenting activities. Used to be something you made fun of a guy for — remember Russell Crowe complaining about being photographed pushing a stroller?
    So fine, that’s all about behaviors changing for men. When it comes to the women’s side I may not be seeing it as clearly. I’m too in the middle of it! I see much better services being provided for women related to OB/GYN and childbirth. I see a woman who’s the Speaker of the House. But I also still see tons of women in total crisis mode when a kid or an elderly parent gets sick. And I see lots of women who have internalized a ton of stress related to money. Like it or not, in the past if the guy was in charge of the money it was his thing to worry about, largely.

  6. urbanartiste Says:

    Some other studies coinciding with this one are not painting this as progress for women. Even with unemployed husbands, women are still doing the majority of the housework and childcare. In other studies men are happier in their lives than women. Not to mention that women may dominate working adults, but their salaries start out lower and are decending faster than men in the recession.

  7. amy c. Says:

    And now you know why Sarah Palin had so much support, at least initially, from women who aren’t liberals.
    dave s., do you seriously want to step to me and tell me I’m not the breadwinner in my home? The responsibility is the responsibility, whether you’re bringing in $20K or $200K.

  8. urbanartiste Says:

    I hate the term breadwinner because for decades women have been working part-time to supplement the household income for college tuition, family vacations, savings, and net in case the husband was let go from a job. And on top of that she was/is still responsible for child care, cooking and cleaning. The main problem I see is that domestic duties are not really valued since there is no paycheck.
    Amy c,
    If Palin were not so conservative on social issues I would have supported her. She is not the most intelligent person or at least she appears that way in the media, but the more I witness women in my community volunteer for schools and other organizations, the more respect I have for a person like Palin who chose a political path out of the PTA.

  9. dave.s. Says:

    amy c: It seems to me that there is a huge difference between someone like my wife, who has made between three fifths and three quarters of our family income ever since we were married, and someone who is the sole source of income for her/his family. Each would be ‘breadwinner’, but when my wife got laid off, she could count on my continuing income (and benefits!), we weren’t looking into the abyss. So that’s a lot of my complaint about the chart, it conflates a lot of very different situations.

  10. jen Says:

    I take Elizabeth Warren’s view of the two-income household. While a family with two income contributors theoretically has less risk (as Dave S. notes re: the “abyss”), the fact is most of these households cannot cover even their most basic bills with just one of those incomes. And so, unless that second income truly is going to “extras”, you actually have *more* risk, as you’re now dependent upon two jobs remaining stable.
    Dave’s point about health insurance is well taken, however. With two working parents your odds of retaining health insurance are higher.

  11. lisa Says:

    Interestingly, 4 out of the 5 married women in my office are the “breadwinners” in our households. We all have master’s degrees. Three of us have husbands over 50, who are struggling with the job market working against their age. My partner has an unchallenging job that pays a pittance in relation to his education and experience as a conservation biologist. But, he’s 53 and grateful for a job.
    As Dave points out, there is a lot of conflation on the chart. I think the statistic is that men over 50 are 25% less likely to be offered a job?
    Oh, and I do all the daycare drop off, sick leave etc because his employer allows no schedule flexibility. He punches a clock, and the family leave they used to allow was cut in last year’s budget.

  12. dave.s. Says:

    Joy Behar says your husband is a bum!
    “Joy Behar, George Lopez Label Todd Palin a ‘Bum’ for Being a Stay-at-Home Dad”
    THERE’s reverse traditional family for you!

  13. Jennifer Says:

    I think I missed this chart in the feedreader from your old blog. Really dramatic. I suspect that it wouldn’t be as dramatic here in Australia (mainly because we seem to have a worse glass ceiling than most of the western world for women, not because women aren’t working).

    Most of the people (male or female) at my level (reasonably senior in one of Australia’s biggest companies) have a stay at home spouse, which is possibly part of the reason that there aren’t many women there. But there are more two income families creeping in, which I’m happy about, even if I’m not part of one.

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