May 29, 2013 -- A record four out of 10 households have mothers as the sole or primary source of income in the family, according to a new report released Wednesday.
Pew Research Center analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau and found that 40 percent of all households with children under age 18 include mothers who are the sole or primary breadwinner, up from 11 percent in 1960. The report, called Breadwinner Moms, also surveyed 1,003 adults by telephone about their views of female breadwinners. Among the survey respondents, 51 percent say children are better off if a mother is home and doesn't hold a job while only 8 percent say the same about a father.
"There's still a big gap in that the public feels a mother should be the primary caregiver for children, but at the same time, we see women taking responsibility of being the primary financial provider for the family as well," said Wendy Wang, research associate at Pew Research Center and lead author of the report.
Yolanda Machado, 34, a mother of a 5-year-old daughter who earns more than her husband of seven years, said she was surprised by the survey results.
She said she is accustomed to the idea of women earning money and making household decisions.
"I was raised in an environment in which you do what needs to be done so everybody's needs are met," Machado said.
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After they married, Machado and her husband were earning similar incomes. She started working as a legal assistant when they moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia. He was working in construction at the time.
Now he is working towards becoming a chef.
"He ended up pursuing something he loved, but the pay was much lower than what I was making," Machado said.
The most difficult time for him was when he was looking for a job and was a stay-at-home dad.
"That was when he had the issue that I was making more than him, but he realized he was doing a very important job in taking care of our child," Machado said. "I think it depends on the family and what works out better for you."
The growth of female breadwinners is tied to the increasing presence of women in the workplace, Pew said. Women make up 47 percent of the U.S. labor force while the employment rate of married mothers with kids increased to 65 percent in 2011 from 37 percent in 1968, according to another study from Pew.
Other characteristics make female breadwinners stand out from other mothers.
"Compared with all mothers with children under age 18, married mothers who out-earn their husbands are slightly older, disproportionally white and college educated," the report states. "Single mothers, by contrast, are younger, more likely to be black or Hispanic, and less likely to have a college degree."
Educational opportunities may be influencing gender income levels. The share of couples in which the mother has a higher educational level than her spouse increased to 23 percent in 2011 from 7 percent in 1960. But a majority of spouses have similar educational backgrounds, Pew said.
On average, Pew said total family income is higher when the mother, not the father, is the primary breadwinner.
In 2011, the median family income was almost $80,000 for couples in which a wife is the primary breadwinner. That's about $2,000 more than it was for couples in which a husband is the primary breadwinner, and $10,000 more than for couples in which spouses' income is the same, the report states.
"This happens because in these types of families they are more likely to have two working parents than the other type of families," said Wang.
The financial picture is very different for the 8.6 million single mothers in the country, as opposed to the 5.1 million married mothers who have a higher income than their husbands.
The median income for families with single mothers is $23,000. The national median income is $57,100 for all families with children.
The percentage of single mothers who have never married has also increased significantly since 1960. Back then, the vast majority of single mothers then were women who were previously married. The percentage of single mothers then who never married was only 4 percent. Now, that figure has increased to 44 percent.