Breadwinner Mothers: The Rest of the Story
Rachel Sheffield /
A new Pew Research survey reveals that “[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.”
But who are the 40 percent? The majority—two-thirds—are single mothers. According to the report, the average household income of these single breadwinner mothers is nothing to cheer about, at far below that of married mothers ($23,000 compared to $80,000). It is also far below the overall average U.S. household income ($57,000 in 2011). On top of this, nearly a third of these “breadwinner” moms are not working.
Low-income levels and high unemployment among single mothers means they are much more likely to be on welfare compared to married-parent families. Data shows that of welfare families with children, approximately three-quarters are headed by a single parent, most of whom are women.
Today’s historically high rate of unwed childbearing—over 40 percent of all children today are born outside marriage—combined with a high divorce rate, contribute to a growing number of households headed by single moms.
As the Pew data would suggest, and as other data show, children in single-parent families are much more likely to live in poverty. In fact, they are five times as likely to be poor compared to their peers in married-parent households. Overall, 71 percent of poor families with children are headed by a single parent.
Children not raised in intact families are not only more likely to be poor but are also less likely to graduate from high school and college, which would help them thrive down the road. They are also more likely to participate in delinquent behaviors and become single parents themselves.
Earnings aren’t the only difference between the married and single mothers, as the Pew report explains:
Compared with all mothers with children under age 18, married mothers who out-earn their husbands are slightly older, disproportionally white and college educated. Single mothers, by contrast, are younger, more likely to be black or Hispanic, and less likely to have a college degree.
The differences between these groups mirror the social divide taking place in the United States. As Heritage Foundation expert Robert Rector explains:
The U.S. is steadily separating into a two-caste system with marriage and education as the dividing line. In the high-income third of the population, children are raised by married parents with a college education; in the bottom-income third, children are raised by single parents with a high school degree or less.
That more mothers end up going it alone means that more children are at risk for poverty and other negative outcomes. Strong marriages and families mean children have a greater opportunity to thrive. Leaders at every level of society should make efforts to support and strengthen marriage, in order to promote strong families, communities, and ultimately, a stronger America.