Can Breadwinner Moms Just Pay 77% for Their Groceries?

I was recently inspired by the senseless response of Miss Utah in answering the question, “A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?” (Asked by, of all people, Nene Leakes of Real Housewives fame, BTW.)

She says, “I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are … continuing to try to strive to [epic pause] figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem. And I think, especially the men are … um … seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to try to figure out how to create educate better so we can solve this problem. Thank you.

Obviously, this makes no sense whatsoever. Deadspin was dead-on in their reaction, “What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.” (At least Miss South Caroline was funnier, albeit unintentionally, rather than just confusing.) But, in any case, it is a really important question. What is going on if more and more women are the primary providers for their families but they are still more likely to earn less than men and presumably be less able to provide material needs because of this?

The report referred to is the Pew Research Report “Breadwinner Moms,” which calculated that women the sole or primary provider in 40% of American households with children under 18. There are two different types of households, both which have increased, that have led to this dramatic rise in breadwinner mom. Married mothers who out-earn their husbands have increased from 4% of households with children under 18 in 1960 to 15% in 2011. Single mothers, who are the sole providers to their families, have increased from 7% to 25% of households with children under 18 in the same period. (In case it’s unclear for some reason, 15% and 25% equals 40%.)

Somehow ironically similar to stay-at-home moms, breadwinner moms are at the two far ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. Married breadwinner moms who out-earn their husbands are older and more likely to be white and well-educated, which often leads to higher earning potential. Single breadwinner moms are younger and more likely to be Hispanic or African American and without a college degree, which conversely often leads to lower earning potential. (Stay-at-home moms are likely to be from high income families where it is a luxury to stay at home with children or low income families where the cost of childcare exceeds or equivalent to what can be earned in the labor market.)

Pew attributes the increasing trend of breadwinner moms to women’s increased presence in the labor market. Here at Lady Economist, we already well-know, and often discuss, that the gender wage gap is remarkably persistent, decreasing at a snail’s pace since the implementation of the Equal Pay Act. This leads to the question, what is going on if more women are the primary supporter of their families with young children while they still earn significantly less than men?

As alluded to above, the earnings of breadwinner moms divides along lower income and higher income lines. The Pew report finds that total family income tends to be higher in breadwinner mom families, with breadwinner mom families earning a median income of $80,000 – $2,000 more a year than breadwinner dad families and $10,000 more a year that equal earning families. But single mother families (particularly never married women, i.e. those that are not previously married and divorced or widowed) are some of the most likely to live in or near poverty in the U.S., with a median income of $17,400 – the lowest median income among all family types with children.

The paranoid Marxist in me thinks that the capitalists in the economy will use any means necessary to keep the cost to them of the reproduction of the labor force as low as possible, which includes capitalizing on women’s discriminatory or exploitative lower earnings even as they are raising the next generation of workers. The rise in breadwinner moms alongside the persistent gender wage gap certainly doesn’t give me confidence that our society values women neither as caregivers nor workers. Furthermore, what does this say about how we value the next generation if we don’t value those whose second shift is raising future workers?

Perhaps breadwinner moms just pay 77% what men pay for goods and services to provide for their families since women earn 7 7 cents to each dollar men earn? I guess I don’t have much of a better response than Miss Utah, other than this is messed up.

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Also, how weird is the stock photo I found of a out-of-focus breadwinner mom leaving the hubby and the baby at home? I find the way she is peering back at us very discomforting.


Categories: Means of Reproduction, Women at Work

1 reply

  1. Why do people still watch pageants? To see women be judged by the appearance, and then, finally, once they are supposed to use their brains, exhibit how dumb they are?

    Her answer is incoherent at best. But isn’t there a video like this every year?

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