• Scott Behson

The Pew Research Report, Breadwinner Moms, Misleading Headlines and the Challenges of Dual-Income Ho

The recent Pew Research Report focuses on “The Rise of Breadwinner Moms“. However, if you look beyond the headline into the data, the real take-away should be that the clear majority of households are “dual-earner/shared-care”– why don’t employers and our society realize this and start adapting for long-term success?

The Pew Study tracks the changes in household earnings over 50 years


The headline of the new Pew Study (released May 29th) is “Breadwinner Moms“- as their research shows that 40% of US households with kids either have a single mother as sole provider or have a dual-income arrangement in which the wife out-earns the husband (this caused the oldwhiteguys at FoxNews to wig out!)

Like most headlines, this is somewhat misleading. They only get to the 40% number by cobbling together the 11% never-married single mother households, the 14% single-mother-divorced households and the 15% of dual-parent households with female breadwinners. These are kinda three separate groups, no?

If you really dive into the data, what you find is that only 15% of two-parent families and 22.5% of dual-income families have the wife as the primary earner. While this is notable, and represents larger percentages than in the past, the fact is the vast, vast majority of families and dual-income families rely on the husbands for the larger share of the income.

The real take-away from the Pew Study should be that dual-income couples are the norm, and have been for some time.

About 60% of married couples with children have dual incomes (an all-time high). Only about 30% of married couples with children have a male-breadwinner-female caretaker arrangement (an all-time low).

I’ve written about some of the advantages of dual-career arrangements before (here and here). Of course, many different arrangements can work depending on spousal preferences, financial needs and especially the children’s’ needs- I’m not making value judgments here (as I was wrongfully accused of in this HuffPo piece). Research has shown that these advantages include:

  1. Dual-income almost always means more income

  2. Dual-incomes take the pressure off one spouse to be a sole provider, allowing that person more financial flexibility to choose meaningful work, change jobs, start a business, etc.

  3. Dual-income families are significantly less likely to get divorced, in part because it alleviates financial pressures, but also because spouses may have more in common and may have a greater ability to relate to each other’s work and home challenges. (see this research study from the American Journal of Sociology)

  4. Dual-income arrangements may force couples to develop the skills and perspectives to coordinate/communicate/work together/share care when running their households, creating a more integrated, team-like approach.

But dual-income arrangements can also be very hard to successfully navigate. In fact, in the Pew study, almost 3/4 of dual-income couples stated that their work makes it harder to raise their children. There are many barriers that “dual-income-shared-care couples” face- at work, at home, and in society.

Things are changing, but the vast majority of dual-income household rely on the husband for the primary income


Last week, I attended Thirdpath Institute’s Work-Family Pioneering Leaders Summit, where the focus was on how to help families develop ways in which they can more successfully share caregiving and provider roles outside of the “all-in” approach to careers, and how to encourage more supportive workplaces. The summit was awesome (and I’ll be writing a follow-up piece on the summit soon). We discussed the following barriers to successful dual-earner/shared care approaches, including:

  1. Rigid workplaces and careers

  2. “Work-first” and “All-in” workplace cultures

  3. Men in dual-income couples who are still in a “sole provider” career mindset

  4. Women in dual-career couples who are reluctant to share childcare tasks and responsibilities (“maternal gatekeeping”)

  5. Societal signals about the proper roles on men and women at home and at work

Ultimately, our society and most workplaces are still set up for a “sole-provider, sole caretaker” world- expecting very long hours and constant “all-in” commitment from employees. This may have been a good model two generations ago, but it is significantly out of step with today’s society.

My headline from the Pew study would be:

The clear majority of households are “dual-earner/shared care”, why don’t employers and our society realize this and start adapting for long-term success?

What do you think about dual-income families? How does your family manage? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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#breadwinnermoms #egalitarianmarriage #dualincomefamilies #dualcareercouples #newnormal #genderandwork #sharedcare #thirdpathinstitute #dualincome #PewStudy

© 2020 by Scott Behson

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