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The Misinformation Regarding "Breadwinner Moms"

The past week has seen a massive amount of press coverage surrounding the May 29, 2013, release of a study by the Pew Research Center entitled “Breadwinner Moms: Mothers Are the Sole or Primary Provider in Four-in-Ten Households with Children; Public Conflicted about the Growing Trend.” The findings of this study are extremely important in the understanding of today’s society in order to make critical policy decisions. Sadly, press coverage leads to misinterpretation, inadequate headlines and catchy sound-bites that lead the general public to misinformation, at minimum. In this particular case, the articles and unending debates are completely overshadowing the study’s findings. As is typical, we are losing our unique opportunity to address hard data that could lead to major societal improvements.

As far as I’m concerned, there is only one way to discover what the study ACTUALLY found – read it yourself! The Chapter One Overview of the Pew Research Center study follows.

"A record 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The share was just 11% in 1960."

Alarmingly, much of the press coverage and on-air debates appear to address this paragraph alone even though the PDF report is 29 pages long. However, even when the press coverage stops here, the coverage is focusing solely on women’s desire to work and glossing over women’s need to work. Both are true and it does a disservice to neglect to mention that the idealized one-income family of the 1960’s transformed long ago into a two-income family necessary for survival. The option to work or not work is a luxury in today’s society and THAT is the significant discussion point.

Moving on, a critical point regarding today’s society is clearly stated in the next two paragraphs of the Pew Research Center study.

"These “breadwinner moms” are made up of two very different groups: 5.1 million (37%) are married mothers who have a higher income than their husbands, and 8.6 million (63%) are single mothers."

"The income gap between the two groups is quite large. The median total family income of married mothers who earn more than their husbands was nearly $80,000 in 2011, well above the national median of $57,100 for all families with children, and nearly four times the $23,000 median for families led by a single mother."

To reiterate, 63% of the 40% of families who are the sole or primary breadwinner are single mothers. Also, note that the median income for families led by a single mother is $23,000. THESE are the statistics that need our focus rather than any BS that decries that working women are ruining the American family since, as the study shows, working women are supporting the American family. Accusatory debates completely miss the point and deflect attention to self-serving interests, as well as direct discussions far away from tangible, resolvable matters.

The inherent poverty of single mothers is the issue and any study in poverty would explain the multiple levels of issues that produce this economic outcome. Child support enforcement is sorely lacking. Pay inequity is ever-apparent. Child care is barely affordable. And salary is always a factor in “gender-specific” jobs. In addition, there is no one reason for single motherhood and blame and judgments are less than helpful. Certainly, no child exists due to a miracle of Immaculate Conception, so single motherhood involves and affects both men and women. Instead of blaming women for destroying the American family, we need to recognize the actual findings of the Pew Research Center study, accept that certain conditions exist and make policy decisions that help all of our children. It is irrational to condemn half the population for the consequences of societal conditions.

For further information, please read the Pew Research Center study at

The PDF version of the Pew Research Center study can be found at

U.S. Census Poverty Data can be found at

* My original post can be found at


Wendyiscalm's picture

Very informative

Hi Caryn,

I am from Chicago though I used to live in Dallas and Houston.

Very very revealing and I am glad you have done what most don't which is look at the WHOLE study. Of course, being from the USA I have been hearing the television info about your topic and udnerstand to what you are referring. I was thinking what has happened which I believe is partly true, is that many father's who lost their jobs due to the economy a few years ago and have not been able to get a job, have turned to their wives to work instead which I see a lot so I know that is part of it. I am talking about upper class households and environments which is different than middle or low income married couples. It is a choice but it is done to keep up a lifestyle. In middle and lower income married families there is the NEED.

There are a lot of stay- at- home dads, we call them Mr. Mom's. But the problem now that is developing, and I have seen it, is that some of the Dads LIKE this stay at home thing with the kids, so they WON'T find a job again unless they can get one for what they were paid when they were laid off a few years ago which is not possible for upper income males. That is a current problem to some degree. And some of the lower income dads don't want to work either because they like the unemployment check.

But what you say about the single mom is SO IMPORTANT. I was one of them and it is so so sad. There are so many married couples who are professional (or not) who between them earn a lot and the women don't WANT to stay home, they want to work, they want the lifestyle it provides. In these married homes, a lot of nannies are raising the kids, unfortunately. The long term effect of this is to be seen.

Anyhow, thanks for your article, it is GREAT and brings to the front what I think is a big problem.

Thank you, Caryn.

Keep up the good work and please keep these issues in our face so we don't forget.

Ubuntu(I am who I am because of who we are together),


Wendy Stebbins
I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

Caryn Dudarevitch's picture

Hi, Wendy! Thank you for

Hi, Wendy! Thank you for your thoughts and your kind words. It is certainly a complicated issue - one the media completely lost in their insanity! Crazy! Thank you for your efforts in Zambia! Amazing women out there!! Much love to you!! Caryn

Caryn- I was suspicious of this report when I heard it on the news. What was the actual context of the study, and who did it include or exclude? There are many directions this story could take me in my comments. There also are questions of whether married moms are working because they need to in order to survive, or because they want a particular lifestyle. These are not questions for me to answer, as I will not presume a person's reasons.

But, the issue of poverty among single mothers is such an important one. Is the poverty due to lack of education, lack of opportunity, economy, etc etc. There is no one answer, but that doesn't diminish the problem. Solutions are many, including equal opportunities, equal pay, dual parent responsibility, and more.

Take note, national news. Please report the ACTUAL numbers within context.

Thank you for this, Caryn.

Let us Hope together-
aka: Cali gal


Hi, Michelle! I included a link to the actual study report which, in this case, is the best way to understand the study. Since the information was being lost in the media, I was not going to be just another "media" person interpreting it. There are multiple levels to the study data as there are in any discussion of poverty. I respectfully refer to the study at Much love! Caryn

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