Contributing to the family: mothers as breadwinners

March 21, 2013

The family dynamic is changing as mothers seek to provide for their families, especially during times of financial difficulty. College scholarships and financial aid for moms provide a basis for mothers to become breadwinners.

The recession plays a hand
Kristin Smith of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, describes how the recession has had an effect on mothers' role in the family. Her report describes that between 2008 and 2009, mothers' positions as financial contributors to their families increased more substantially than they had in over  25 years.

"Both rural and urban families have seen a large rise in wives as primary and sole providers," Smith states in her report.

The need for financial assistance is the underlying reason for this increase. Especially as massive cuts in male-dominated fields took place during the recession, a certain financial responsibility fell upon the wife. The Boston Globe contributor Katie Johnston explains that women "...were thrust into the role of family breadwinner during the last recession, which hit men disproportionately hard as male-dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing sustained massive job losses."

Education is essential
Johnston notes that when a husband does not have a college degree, the wife often has to take the reins to bring in money. In many homes, men rely on work that does not involve a college education as a prerequisite. It is within these occupational areas that deep cuts were made, thus highlighting the real need for that education.

"In this economy, the highest pay goes to those with the most education," Smith reminds. As their spouses lose their jobs, mothers can fill a certain financial gap by getting an education and entering a potentially profitable workforce. 

More wives bring in an income
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that in 2011, the number of married couples with one employed parent was 95.8 percent, more or less staying the same as the year before. However, the number of marriages in which both spouses worked increased during that year, reaching 58.5 percent. This shows that despite an essentially unconditional presence of at least one working parent in the family, both members of certain marriages are looking to bring in an income. 

Smith's report shows wives currently making 47 percent of a family's income, whereas in 1988 they only made 38 percent. In turn, husbands now make 53 percent of this income, a rather substantial drop from their former 62 percent in 1988. This is testament that the financial roles within the American marriage are blending and that the wife is progressively essential in providing a family's earnings. 

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