“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,” said Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociologist who studies gender and family trends. “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.”
But the Pew Research report shows that Americans are decidedly ambivalent about mothers who work outside the home. Three-fourths of those surveyed say these mothers make raising children harder, and half worry that it’s bad for marriages.
About half of those surveyed felt it was better if mothers stayed home with young children. In contrast, 8 percent thought it was better if fathers did.
But at the same time, the report notes that other polls have found that nearly 80 percent of Americans don’t think mothers should return to a traditional 1950s middle-class housewife role.
“The public is really of two minds,” said Kim Parker, one of the report’s authors. Traditional gender roles “are a deeply ingrained set of beliefs. It will take a while for those views to catch up with the reality of the way people are living today.”
While not perfect, it’s a lifestyle that suits Lisa Rohrer, who works at Georgetown University Law Center, as well as her family. Rohrer became the primary breadwinner when her husband, JJ, started his own business. He now picks their two kids up from school, stays home when they are sick and does much of the housework.
“For us, it has been ideal in many ways, because it has allowed JJ to pursue his dream of starting his own business and has allowed me to take jobs that require a lot of time and travel. I’m also glad our kids see an alternative way of handling careers, marriage and kids,” she said. “On the other hand, I have a lot more sympathy for dads in families where their wives are staying at home. There is a lot of pressure when you’re the main breadwinner.”
Although the trend toward mothers who pull in the biggest part of the family income has been on the rise as more women have become educated and entered the workforce, the recession has accelerated the trend, said Sarah Jane Glynn, an analyst with the Center for American Progress.