Women began graduating from college in greater numbers than men in 1985 and now earn more advanced degrees in many fields.
The stigma of women out-earning men appears to be waning, at least among those with college educations. About 30 percent of those surveyed think it’s better if men earn more, down from 40 percent in 1997. Those with a high school degree or less, however, are twice as likely as college-educated Americans to think men should earn more.
Heidi Parsons, 44, who owns her own recruiting firm in Alexandria, said attitudes such as that can make being a breadwinner a challenge in a relationship.
“My husband is a massage therapist. The disparity in income is hard for him. I don’t care. I signed up for it. I knew that going in, and it’s never bothered me,” she said. “But it’s hard, because it’s hard for him. What I like to look at is how it was nice that he was home for two years when the kids were little. That’s a contribution there that goes unrecognized on the dad’s side.”
Cohen said the trend toward breadwinning mothers can be disconcerting because it upends the status quo.
“Mothers have historically been responsible for the majority of child care and rearing, and single motherhood represents an extension of that role in a way that does not challenge traditional gender norms,” he said.
Single-mother breadwinners are at a severe disadvantage, the report found.
Compared with their married peers, they earn an average of $23,000 and are more likely to be younger, black or Hispanic and have less education than a college degree.
“The makeup of single mothers has changed dramatically,” said Wendy Wang, one of the report’s authors. “In 1960, the vast majority of single mothers were divorced, separated or widowed. Only 4 percent were never married. But now, it’s 44 percent.” Now, 40 percent of all births are to single mothers, she added.
Julie Guyot-Diangone, 42, a divorced, breadwinning mother of two who works on Capitol Hill, earned a PhD in social work and specializes in orphan and refugee displacement. But since both her parents died a few months ago, she has no one to help her take care of her children, much less buy the groceries, cook or do laundry.
“I used to think, when looking for employment, I would look at my area of expertise. But those aren’t necessarily 9-to-5 jobs,” she said. “I find that I’m looking for work hours. Flex time. Teleworking. I’m looking for that, as a priority.”
Marcia Greco, 57, who works in Fairfax, had no choice about becoming her family’s breadwinner when her husband was laid off nearly 20 years ago. Her husband took care of their two children and went to school at night. He felt isolated. Sometimes, people thought of them as a curiosity. Despite that, and despite the unease with mother breadwinners that Pew Research report found, the situation worked for them. The two just celebrated their 30th anniversary.
“We showed our kids that anyone can be a nurturer or go out and be a primary breadwinner,” she said. “Your gender doesn’t matter.”