Mom, bringing home the bacon

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May 29, 2013, 7:40 pm
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(NECN: Peter Howe, Bolton/Chestnut Hill, Mass.) - Dad brings home the money, Mom stays home and takes care of the kids and the housekeeping – it’s a paradigm we all know is long gone as family structures have changed and tens of millions of women have joined the workplace.

But Wednesday, the Pew Research Center put a surprising number on just how much things have changed: 40 percent of U.S. households with children now count the Mom as the sole or primary breadwinner for the family.

A big reason: Single moms now head one quarter of all u-s families, and most of them work outside the home. But also driving the moms-as-top-breadwinners shift, Pew found: The percentage of wives who out-earn their husbands has soared from 4 percent in 1960 to 15 percent now. Wives who have more education than their husbands have tripled to 23 percent since then. And the percentage of married mothers who work outside the home has soared from 37 percent in 1968 to 65 percent now, according to the most recent Census Bureau data Pew analyzed.

For Deb Kotlarz, owner of a thriving real-estate businesses in Bolton, Mass., becoming the chief breadwinner for her family was something that just kind of happened over the last 11 years as the former high-tech executive’s business took off. She and her husband, Vince, who works in law enforcement and home inspections, found they adjusted organically to roles including parents to a 10-year-old son and two other adult children from previous marriages.

“It's really about our earnings come together into one bank account, and the family's needs are fulfilled out of that bank account, so we don't keep score,’’ Kotlarz said.
“There are certainly so many ways that my husband contributes far more than I do. I'm not the least bit handy. If something breaks in the house, forget it … When it comes to something like, ‘Who's making dinner tonight?’ it's really: Who's available? If I have client appointments in the evening and my husband will pick up the slack, my family’s usually pretty happy about that, because he’s a better cook!’’

Researcher Jennifer Sabatini Fraone, associate director of Boston’s College’s Carroll School of Management’s Center for Work and Family, which conducts academic research on work/family issues and consults with big companies on work/family balance policies, said in recent years, “I think it's become more socially acceptable for a woman out-earn her spouse … It's a partnership, and there needs to be breadwinning happening, and there needs to be caregiving happening, and we're seeing that couples are dividing this a lot differently then they did traditionally.’’

“Sometimes men do feel like it's a threat to their masculinity to have their wives earn more, but I think it's become much more acceptable,’’ Sabatini Fraone said, noting a study her center recently completed of 1,000 white-collar, college-educated professional men. Fifty-three percent said if their wives could earn more than they could, they would be willing to stay home or work part time and be the primary caregiver to their children and homemaker.

Sabatini Fraone said the Pew study provides further evidence that “organizations need to acknowledge that families have change” and stop assuming, if they are, that there is always someone at home to care for an employee’s home-life issues. With millions of couples working two jobs out of economic necessity, “They’re both struggling and juggling every day to make their family work and keep their careers on an upward trajectory,’’ and company managers and government policymakers need to be aware of the growing need for “flexible workplaces, flexible hours, some work-from-home opportunities, or providing child care subsidies or backup child care to help parents who are struggling.’’

With women now earning 57 percent of all college degrees and 60 percent of all master’s degrees, and traditional-married-family prevalence continuing to decline, women are poised to continue to make big gains in earnings relative to men and the figure of 40 percent of families having Mom as the sole or primary breadwinner will likely grow bigger, Sabatini Fraone said.

“This is our family, and we make it work,” Kotlarz said of the chief-breadwinner status she never anticipated she one day would hold, and who earns what is just one part of a big puzzle including who handles what parenting and household and paperwork duties. “There certainly have been bumps, and it just reminds us, when we do encounter those bumps, how important it is to just keep the lines of communication open, and just keep working together.’’

Tags: Peter Howe, business , female, primary breadwinner
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