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Women Are Now Breadwinners (Is that OK?)

Vivia Chen

May 30, 2013

466px-June_and_Ward_Cleaver_Leave_it_to_Beaver_1958For all you traditionalists out there, I have bad news: June Cleaver is no longer waiting patiently in the kitchen for her boys to come home. Instead, she's at the office, and, quite possibly, outearning Ward.

According to the latest study by Pew Research Center, women are the sole or primary breadwinners in four out of 10 households with children under 18. Within that group, 37 percent are married women, and 63 percent single mothers.

Let's focus on married women with kids who are now outearning their hubbies (23 percent in 2011 vs. 4 percent in 1960), because female professionals might find it relevant. Here are some fascinating facts: 

- Family income is higher when the mom (not the dad!) is primary breadwinner. "In 2011, the median family income was nearly $80,000 for couples in which wife is the primary breadwinner, about $2,000 more than it was for couples in which husband is the primary breadwinner, and $10,000 more than for couples in which spouses’ income is the same." 

- Married mothers who outearn their husbands are highly educated. "Nearly half (49 percent) have a college degree or higher. This share is significantly higher than it is among women whose husbands are the primary breadwinners (37 percent) and among those who make the same level of income as their husbands (39 percent)."

- The vast majority of respondents say it is fine for the wife to make more money than the husband. Only 28 percent believe "it is generally better for a marriage if a husband earns more than his wife," while 63 percent hold the opposite view.

So everyone is cool about mom bringing home the bacon. We should cheer her on, right?

Not exactly. Despite increasing numbers of women in the workforce, many Americans feel women should stay home with the kids:

About three-quarters of adults (74 percent) say the increasing number of women working for pay has made it harder for parents to raise children, and half say that it has made marriages harder to succeed. At the same time, two-thirds say it has made it easier for families to live comfortably.

Not sexist enough? Try this:

About half (51 percent) of survey respondents say that children are better off if a mother is home and doesn’t hold a job, while just 8 percent say the same about a father.

So even though American women are busting their buns to provide for their families, people are shaking their heads in disapproval.

What's more, The New York Times reports that economists at the University of Chicago and the National University of Singapore find that "couples in which the wife earns more report less satisfaction with their marriage and higher rates of divorce." In cases where the wife makes more, "couples often revert to more stereotypical sex roles; in such cases, wives typically take on a larger share of household work and child care."

So we're back to that ridiculous pattern: Women have to work like a dog outside of the home, but must also take on the traditional female chores in order to soothe the ego of her mate. (Does this also explain why so many young women are taking their husband's surname?)

I don't know about you, but it seems high time we just accept the fact that women—even those with kids—are now working. I mean, shouldn't we just say good riddance to the happy homemaker myth, the little woman myth, and all that other garbage?

 Related post: Sorry, Charlie, Your Wife Won't Support You.

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.



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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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