Breadwinner Moms in Virginia: A closer look at single mothers

Asain Mother

Applying findings to Virginia from a Pew Social & Demographic Trends report, two previous blog posts examined breadwinner mothers in Virginia.  In the first post we found differences between married and unmarried breadwinner moms:

  • Households where the breadwinning mom was married had higher income levels
  • Married breadwinning moms had higher educational attainment
  • Even with the same educational attainment, married breadwinning moms earned more than unmarried moms (and worked more hours on average).

In the second post we examined differences between two groups of unmarried breadwinning moms – those who are single and those who are cohabiting with a partner.  We found that, between these two groups, a greater proportion of cohabiting moms and their children live in poverty, and that lower earnings among cohabiting moms are found even when we hold age and educational attainment constant.

In this post, we will wrap up by focusing on single mothers, the group that makes up the largest share (54%) of breadwinning mothers.[1] 

In light of stereotypes about single mothers represented in popular media, findings from the American Community Survey are particularly important to describing single motherhood in Virginia.

Single mothers in Virginia

The data about single mothers in Virginia points to an important finding: the lives of single mothers who have never been married is quite different from those who have been married before, even when holding constant age, educational attainment, or age of the children. For example, in Virginia, single mothers have median household incomes of about $28,000.  But when we examine marital history, we find some variation around that number. Continue reading

“Breadwinner” Moms in Virginia: Distinct Populations

As Becky explained in her recent post, last month’s Pew report, Breadwinner Moms, finds that, in 2011, forty percent of American households with children under the age of 18 had the mother as the primary or sole earner.  The report goes on to parse this number, indicating that, of this population, about one-third are married women who out-earn their spouses and two-thirds are single mothers.

In Virginia, the numbers are reflective of the national trend: using the same approach as Pew to examine 2011 American Community Survey, we see that forty one percent of Virginia households with children under 18 have a woman as the primary “breadwinner”. Forty three percent of this group (or about 134,000 households) have wives earning more than their husbands, while fifty seven percent (or about 174,200) are headed by unmarried mothers.

As mentioned in various media critiques, these two groups of earners are different enough to treat as entirely different populations.  In this post, the first of three on this topic, I look at some of the key differences between these two groups of mothers, and examine earnings trends relative to these differences. Continue reading

“Breadwinner” Moms in Virginia

“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.” – Executive Summary, “Breadwinner Moms”

“Breadwinner Moms,” a recently released report from Pew Social & Demographic Trends, suggests, on its face, that gender equality in the labor force is perhaps closer than advocates for women’s rights would have us believe. The authors note that, as of 2011, “a record 40%” of households with children had mom as the primary breadwinner, up from 11% in 1960. There are a number of large-scale social and economic issues reflected in these seemingly straightforward numbers—changing household structures and trends in family formation; increasing female participation in higher education and the labor force; rising costs of living and stagnant wage growth that necessitate multiple earners within a family; and the lingering effects of the recession on labor market participation.

Moving beyond the initial “40%” number shows that there are really two populations being discussed: (1) single mother families and (2) married couple families in which the wife earns more than her husband. Using the term “breadwinner” with respect to women in single-mother families belies the economic realities of their situation. Single moms are the only potential earners in the family; many earn low (or no) wages and rely on public assistance to get by. This topic will be explored in greater depth in Virginia by Annie in our next blog post.

Discussions of the second population, married couples with “breadwinning” wives, gloss over problematic economic issues underpinning this shift, such as the disproportionate impact of the recession in male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing. While two earner families may create new challenges at home, such as negotiating child care and housework, and yield divergent opinions on what’s best for children, they also reflect a basic economic reality for many American families: one income is not enough. I was also troubled by the use of the term “breadwinner”—traditionally used to describe a household in which a single earner is able to support the entire family unit—to describe two earner households in which one partner is earning more than the other. Moreover, the wage gap between husbands and wives was never made clear; how much more are these “breadwinning” moms actually earning compared to their husbands? Let’s take a quick look at the 2011 American Community Survey data for Virginia.

Continue reading