June 3, 2013

You would never know it from the breathless coverage of the new Pew study showing that “breadwinner moms” can be found in 40 percent of homes with children, but the United States is not on the verge of some androgynous utopia.

It is true that four out of ten families with children now depend for all or most of their income on Mom. But five social realities undergirding this statistic belie the notion that utopia lies just around the corner.

One. The biggest reason that “breadwinner moms” are so common today is that 25 percent of today’s families with children are headed by single mothers. In most of these families, this means that Dad will not or cannot come close to doing his fair share of the housework, child care, and breadwinning needed to sustain a family. The median income of these single-mother-headed households, $23,000, is not even half the median income enjoyed by homes headed by two parents (who typically pull in more than $70,000). And 29 percent of these single “breadwinner moms” are not even working, according to the 2011 American Community Survey.

Two. The public is concerned about the growing share of children being raised by single moms. The Pew study found that 64 percent of the public thinks that the rising share of children born to unmarried mothers is a “big problem.”

Three. About 23 percent of married families have mothers who out-earn their husbands. The rise of these married breadwinner-mother families is driven in part by the fact that many of their husbands are under- or unemployed: About one-quarter have husbands who are not working, according to the 2011 American Community Survey. And men without good jobs are much more likely to end up depressed and divorced.

Four. The public is ambivalent about the rise of breadwinner-mother families. While most Americans appreciate the financial contributions that working mothers make to their families, almost three-quarters of adults (74 percent) think that the growing share of women working for pay has made it harder for parents to raise children, and 50 percent of the public thinks it has made it harder for marriages to be successful.

Five. This ambivalence may flow in part from the fact that breadwinner-mother marriages seem to be more difficult than marriages where the father is the primary breadwinner. One new study from the University of Chicago found that couples “where the wife earns more than the husband are less satisfied with their marriage and are more likely to divorce.”

The growing number of breadwinner moms has partly been fueled by our nation’s incorporation of bright and capable women into the workforce, which is all to the good. But the rise of breadwinner moms has also been fueled by surging rates of nonmarital childbearing, single motherhood, and male unemployment. These trends look more like the familial ingredients of an American dystopia, not an androgynous utopia. Perhaps this is why the public is so conflicted about the rise of breadwinner moms.

In an age in which our culture tells young women that they don't need a man to care for them, be the father of their children or be the actual "breadwinner," we are actually seeing the fruits of this teaching. Also, this is the age of less employed men. The recession of 2008-09 (the effects of which are still being felt today) has produced pink slips for 4 men to each woman and new jobs in both the public and private sectors have gone to women 3 to 1.

Women are doing more work, in and out of the home. And the figures will only continue to go up as more and more men continue to get those rejection notices. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?

We will never return to the "Ozzie and Harriet" or "Leave It To Beaver" family. Both parents are seeing the necessity of working outside the home. The children suffer the most. But we are fast approaching the time when the roles will come half-circle and more men will end up as "stay -at-home dads."

We know that while we’ve thrown out the old model, we’re going to need a new one. We know we need some version of the old to accommodate the new.

That more and more dads are staying home seems promising, although it wrecks havoc on the typical male ego. Passing the trend on to the second generation will be easy and by the third generation working moms and stay at home dad will become the norm.

We also know, though we’re loathe to admit it, that as long as both parents are absent, or simply distracted by their jobs, children will suffer the consequences—regardless of whether the distraction is borne of necessity or choice. All young children know is that their parents aren’t there. Why they’re not there is beside the point.

To be sure, this is a tough pill to swallow for a new generation. But swallow it we must. And society today wants us all to think that way - and get use to it.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States speaks for itself. There is no need to rewrite, change or reinterpret it to suit the fancies of special interest groups or protected classes.