Both groups of breadwinner moms — married and unmarried — have grown sharply.
Among all U.S. households with children, the share of married breadwinner moms has jumped from 4 percent in 1960 to 15 percent in 2011. For single mothers, the share has increased from 7 percent to 25 percent.
Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University, said that to his surprise public attitudes toward working mothers have changed very little over the years. He predicts the growing numbers will lead to a growing constituency among women in favor of family-friendly work policies such as paid family leave, as well as safety net policies such as food stamps or child care support for single mothers.
“Many of our workplaces and schools still follow a male-breadwinner model, assuming that the wives are at home to take care of child care needs,” he said. “Until we realize that the breadwinner-homemaker marriage will never again be the norm, we won’t provide working parents with the support they need.”
—There is a gender gap on attitudes. About 45 percent of women say children are better off if their mother is at home, and 38 percent say children are just as well off if the mother works. Among men, 57 percent say children are better off if their mother is at home, while 29 percent say they are just as well off if she works.
—The share of married couples in which the wife is more educated than the husband is rising, from 7 percent in 1960 to 23 percent in 2011. Still, the vast majority of couples include spouses with similar educational backgrounds, at 61 percent.
—The number of working wives who make more than their husbands has been increasing more rapidly in recent years. Among recently married couples, including those without children, the share of “breadwinner wives” is roughly 30 percent, compared with 24 percent of all married couples.
The Pew study is based on an analysis of census data as of 2011, the latest available, as well as interviews with 1,003 adults by cellphone or landline from April 25 to 28. The Pew poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.