A new study from the Pew Research Center finds women are the primary — or sole — earner in 40 percent of American households with children under 18. The numbers highlight a stark divide between single parents and those who are part of a two-income family. We talk about the implications of the study for families at home and work with study author Kim Parker and Howard Ross of Cook Ross.


  • Howard Ross Author, "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance" (Rowman & Littlefield); also Principal, Cook Ross
  • Kim Parker Associate Director, Pew Social & Demographic Trends Project


  • 13:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. In 1960 when "I Love Lucy" ended its near decade long run on TV, star Lucille Ball made $1,500 more per episode than her husband, Desi Arnaz, making her part of a distinct minority of American women who were out-earning their husbands.

  • 13:07:19

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIOver half a century later, the number has nearly quadrupled. Rising along with it is the number of single women raising children alone and the number of women making significantly more than their partners. Here to help us parse the findings of a new study and consider the implications in the office and at home is Kim Parker.

  • 13:07:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIShe is an associate director with the Pew Social and Demographic Trends Project. She is one of the authors of a new study from the organization on "Breadwinner Mom." She joins us from studios here in Washington. Kim Parker, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:07:56

    MS. KIM PARKERThank you so much for having me.

  • 13:07:58

    NNAMDIIn studio with us is Howard Ross. You know Howard, he's a diversity consultant and principal at Cook Ross. He's also the author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance," coming soon in paperback form near you, right.

  • 13:08:16

    MR. HOWARD ROSSThanks Kojo, I appreciate it. Good to see you.

  • 13:08:19

    NNAMDIKim, let's start with you. your research found that mothers are the sole or primary income earners in 40 percent of families with children under 18. how significant is that number in terms of what we know about women in the workforce and their rise over the last half century?

  • 13:08:36

    PARKERYou know, I think it's significant but it's not really surprising. It's just the way we look at it, at this change and this trend is really just another milestone in what's been a dramatic transformation in family structure and family dynamics over the last 50 years.

  • 13:08:53

    PARKERSo women's roles have changed, marriage rates have declined, there are all different forms of families now and different dynamics going on within families and, you know, the economy's different now. There's more demands, it's harder to make ends meet and oftentimes having two incomes makes that easier.

  • 13:09:14

    PARKERSo, you know, this is something that's been building but I think that the fact that it's for four and 10 now, 40 percent, is a big round number and I think that's sort of what's really caught people's eye.

  • 13:09:24

    NNAMDIWithin that 40 percent, Kim, there are distinct subsets, married women who out-earn their spouses and single mothers, raising questions about choice and necessity. Just how different are the two groups?

  • 13:09:39

    PARKERThey're very different, they are. What they have in common is that they're mothers and that they're providing for their families. But the married moms who out-earn their husbands, they're living in households with pretty high incomes. And the single moms are living in households with, you know, much lower incomes than the national median for families.

  • 13:09:58

    PARKERSo that's one big difference. they're also different demographically. The married moms who are out-earning their husbands, they're slightly older, they're disproportionately white and they tend to be college educated. Whereas the single moms are younger, they're more likely to be black or Hispanic and they're also less likely to have a college degree. So they are, you know, two different groups but both really contributing to this trend in growth of the economic contributions that mothers are making to their households.

  • 13:10:25

    NNAMDIWe're inviting you to join this conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Are you surprised by the findings of this Pew study? Did you think the share of female breadwinners would be lower or higher? 800-433-8850, Howard Ross, what does that distinction between choice and necessity tell us about the big picture when we look at the American workplace today?

  • 13:10:47

    ROSSWell, I think that there are a number of things that are contributing to this pattern that clearly are playing themselves out. I mean, one is we see certain fields in which women historically have been marginalized. You know, you look at the law, medicine, accounting.

  • 13:11:01

    ROSSThese are all fields where if you look back 30, 40 years ago you saw relatively small percentage of women and now, in all of those fields you've got at least as many and sometimes more women. And, for example, in the law even though you've got roughly about 51 percent of women, people graduating from law school now are women.

  • 13:11:17

    ROSSWhen you look at the top 10 percent almost 60 percent are so, so you've got higher performing in a lot of these areas as well as the numbers going up. And then, and then the other thing is that there's somewhat of a link here between single mothers and families sometimes, at least in my experience anecdotally.

  • 13:11:32

    ROSSNow, Kim might be interesting in hearing, whether or not your research went into this well, what happens with a lot of people is they become single parents and while they're single parents and, of course, we know that in our society, our culture, for better or for worse, that usually means single mother.

  • 13:11:48

    ROSSWhile they're single parents they have to take on more responsibility, therefore in a lot of cases put more attention on their professional development and then remarry. And then as they remarry, of course, they've now got a profession which ends up impacting the family as well. So you've got any number of trends that are coming together. But one of the interesting things I think is, the way people are reacting to this research in the media.

  • 13:12:11

    NNAMDIAll right, Kim care to comment on whether your study looks into that at all?

  • 13:12:16

    PARKERWith regard to the single mothers, there was one really interesting difference that we saw when we looked back in the historical data at the sort of, the profile of single mothers and how it's changed over time. It used to be back in 1960 that the majority of single mothers were either divorced, separated or widowed and there were relatively few that had never been married.

  • 13:12:39

    PARKERAnd when you look at it now you actually see that there's a much higher share who have never been married and the share who are divorced or widowed or separated has gone down. Now, I think it's true that many of these single mothers will eventually marry and some of them are probably living with a partner and there are maybe, you know, two incomes in that household even if they're not technically married.

  • 13:13:00

    PARKERBut I think the growth and the share of single mothers is really, you know, it's a very important trend and it's something that's, you know, had a huge impact. The group of single mothers is actually bigger than the group of married mothers who are out-earning their husbands in that, you know, 40 percent that we've identified. The single mothers are about 25 percent and the married mothers out-earning their husbands are about 15 percent. So they're, you know, bigger but they've both grown significantly over time.

  • 13:13:23

    NNAMDIAnd Howard pointed out, Kim Parker, the response to this survey has been, it seems, on everybody's minds if not necessarily on their minds certainly on their lips. The response of the "Men at Fox News" have become viral as a result of it.

  • 13:13:40

    NNAMDIBut Kim, the public seems to be of two minds about the implications of this shift in the workplace or what it implies for child-rearing. About half seem to think that kids are better off if mothers stay home with young children, yet a majority don't think mothers should revert to traditional housewife roles. What do you make of that?

  • 13:13:58

    PARKERYes, I mean, this is classic public opinion in a way because oftentimes the public is of two minds on complicated issues like this. and this one is particularly complicated because you've got, you know, economic demands and needing to provide for your family. You've got opportunities for women that just weren't there before and a real desire on the part of many women to take advantage of those opportunities.

  • 13:14:21

    PARKERBut then you've also got these deeply engrained feelings about mothers and fathers and what's best for children and those attitudes really haven't budged all that much over time. And, you know, it may be that there's just been such dramatic change that public opinion hasn't really caught up to it and maybe eventually it will.

  • 13:14:38

    PARKERAnd when you look at the views of younger adults they're much more accepting of these trends and much less concerned about the rise in single mothers and less worried about impacts to children. So it may be that opinion is changing it just hasn't quite caught up with the demographic changes that we've seen.

  • 13:14:55

    PARKERBut there is a fair bit of concern about, not so much the impact that this has on children but the extent to which it makes raising children more difficult and we asked in our survey component of the research, we asked people if the increasing number of women working for pay outside the home, how does that trend affect different aspects of family life?

  • 13:15:18

    PARKERAnd we had, you know, on the one hand 64 percent saying it's good economically, it helps families to live comfortably. But then we had 74 percent saying it makes it harder to raise to children and even 50 percent saying that it makes it harder to have a successful marriage. So there's a lot going on there in a complicated set of views.

  • 13:15:35

    NNAMDI800-433-8850, if you're in a relationship in which the woman is the higher earner, tell us how that works for you. give us your opinion, 800-433-8850. Howard, your observations?

  • 13:15:47

    ROSSYes, well I think that, Kojo, when you said, well you made the distinction between what's in people's heads and what comes out of their mouth. I think it's, you know, when we look at some of this reaction it is clearly very visceral and, in fact, I thought it was fascinating that some of the reactions started even before people could even conceivably had had a chance to read the study, which is not unusual.

  • 13:16:05

    ROSSKim, I know as a researcher you probably love when people do that, you know, they react to your study from the headline about it as opposed to the study itself. But there are a couple things here that I think are really important to understand. And that is that whatever we see changing on the conscious level and the, you know, in terms of what we see, there's still these unconscious patterns of belief that are stuck in us from "Leave to Beaver" days.

  • 13:16:26

    ROSSAnd when we do research, for example, on people's conscious beliefs about whether or not women belong in the workplace relative to whether or not men belong in the workplace. On a conscious level it's about two to one, women to men in terms of feeling like that women should have the same right to be in a workplace as men.

  • 13:16:42

    ROSSBut when we do then that research on an unconscious level using tools like the implicit association test or other tools that are designed to measure people's subconscious beliefs about things like this. The beliefs are still roughly the same, men and women have roughly the same level of belief, mostly that men predominantly should be in the workforce.

  • 13:16:58

    ROSSAnd it, and the reason for that clearly is because women have been subjected to the same stereotyping as men have growing up. They see the same TV shows, they see the same, you know, elements, they have the same messages given to them.

  • 13:17:10

    ROSSAnd so that becomes, that really creates some interesting behavioral confusion when workplaces, for example, make things available to women and women don't take advantage of them for fear that it will, on an unconscious level, that it will trigger those kinds of inter-reactions that, you know, if I'm, for example, taking a flex-time position, well maybe they, you know, people will probably not believe that I belong anyway because I inherently don't believe that I belong, therefore I don't take advantage of this and the same thing is true for taking all the time that they might have accessible to them for Family Leave Act and various things like that as well.

  • 13:17:42

    NNAMDIBut if the reality is that ever since the 1950s women have been entering the workforce in greater and greater numbers and now we see the extent to which they are earning more and becoming primary earners in their families, what is the relationship between social reality and social attitudes? What was your study able to tell us about this if anything at all, Kim Parker? Why is it that we seem to be having trouble catching up with the reality?

  • 13:18:07

    PARKERYes, I think, you know, as I said opinion has been evolving and I think it's just these changes have been pretty rapid in terms of demographic changes and changes in the family structure that we've seen over the last 50 years. And I think that it's true, people are still sort of attached to those images of the "Leave it to Beaver" family or the 1950s era family where the mother stayed home and the father worked.

  • 13:18:32

    PARKERI mean, that's just not the reality for most people today and our statistics show that in married couple families, 60 percent have dual income situations. So both the mom and the dad are working in those situations. So it's not, you know, it's not the reality anymore but somehow some people's attitudes are still hanging on to that, you know, what we'd seen.

  • 13:18:57

    PARKERBut then we have a Pew research question that we've been asking over time that says, "Should women return to their traditional roles in society?" An overwhelming majority say no, so there's no sense that people want women to go back but I think there's still just this very real conflict about, you know, a lot of it comes down to what do you when you introduce children into the equation?

  • 13:19:16

    PARKERAnd what's best for children and how do you juggle that? And when we've asked men and women what they value most in a job, women are much more likely to say that they value flexibility than men are. Men are more likely to say that they value high pay.

  • 13:19:29

    PARKERSo there again, you see women, men and women are sharing responsibilities much more in the home, in child-rearing than they have in the past. But there still is a sense there that, you know, when push comes to shove it's oftentimes going to be the mother who's got to, you know, manage some of those things and at least figure out the logistics of it all, as I can speak from experience.

  • 13:19:49

    NNAMDIOnto the phones, here is Nicole in Olney, Md. Nicole, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 13:19:55

    NICOLEHi, I guess I am the higher earner in my situation. I was a single mother before this, but for my situation, I always thought that women worked and because my mother was always the primary breadwinner in our family. My father always worked. He just didn't always make as much as mom did. And I saw that my entire life so I thought all women did that. It wasn't -- even though I watched TV shows that showed...

  • 13:20:23

    NNAMDII was about to say, you didn't watch TV?

  • 13:20:26

    NICOLEI watched TV, but, you know, I saw shows like "Kate and Allie," you know. I followed shows where there were women that took care of their families. And so I saw it with my mom. So when I would see "Leave it to Beaver," that was kind of fun and it was something I saw at my friends' houses, but, you know -- and even then I feel like a lot of those women worked, too.

  • 13:20:44

    NICOLEI am African American, but a lot of my friends -- I grew up in a culturally diverse area and a lot of my friends are white and different races. And their mothers seemed to work for the most part too. I don't remember as many staying home, and I grew up in the '70s and '80s. So I have two sons now and with -- I told them to look for women who work. I was like, you don't want a woman who doesn't work. Like for me that just seems, you know, not really feasible in this day and age and not what the example I'd want to set for their daughters if they were to have them ever.

  • 13:21:16

    NICOLEI feel like it's something that it really does help society. And I'm surprised at the reactions that people are so surprised, you know, that women take care of this much and that they think it's going to be bad. I can't believe that people still would react that way. I'm shocked at that actually.

  • 13:21:32

    NNAMDINichole, thank you very much for your call. Howard.

  • 13:21:36

    ROSSYeah, well, you know, one of the things that -- when Nichole talks about that, I mean, we assume a certain rationality in human beings. This is one of the places where we always go wrong when we're looking at people's behavior in societal structures today. We have this certain assumption of rationality that people will do what's best for them invariably. And yet we know that's not true. We know that we do what feels right for us, even if ends up not being best for us.

  • 13:21:57

    ROSSSo for example, I grew up in a home -- my dad worked at Pep Boys. My dad's father died when he was young. He barely was able to finish high school because he had to go to work to help support his mother. He went into the military, came out and got a job working at a Pep Boy store and spent the rest of his career doing that. My mother got a job in the government. And at some point she was able to earn more money than he was, but she didn't. She refused promotions because she didn't want to be earning more money than him, you know, based on those generational values.

  • 13:22:28

    ROSSNow that was a completely irrational thing to do relative to the stability of their family. It made no sense in terms of their concerns about money or anything else. But viscerally it felt like the right thing for her to do. And I think that that's -- that those kinds of behavioral manifestations of our visceral attitudes who up all the time.

  • 13:22:49

    ROSSYou know, people who will sit there and say that I think we should have women as leaders -- men I'm talking about now, but sometimes women as well -- I think we should have women as leaders. But the way she manages me doesn't feel as comfortable as the way he manages me because it's much easier for me to look at that boss who kicks tail and takes names and makes things happen who's a guy and say, he's the kind of leader we need around here. But the woman who does those same things has a B word associated with her.

  • 13:23:11

    ROSSAnd these are the kinds of sort of inconsistencies that we see in people's behavioral reactions relative to other attitudes.

  • 13:23:19

    NNAMDIBut Kim Parker, Nichole is talking about how her view has been influenced by her own upbringing, her own life. Howard has talked a little bit about how his had influenced. And it seems that what you've been finding in the studies, that the younger you skew, the more people are willing to accept this as a positive development in society. I don't know how your own family dynamics influence your view, Kim.

  • 13:23:45

    PARKERWell, first of all, with regard to the -- you know, the attitudes of younger adults, I think that that speaks to Nichole's point that, you know, this generation of young adults probably much more likely to have had working moms. And they also more --- the young women are more likely to be envisioning themselves having careers. So their attitudes are much different. And it's a very linear relationship. So you see, you know, adults becoming more and more concerned with age.

  • 13:24:11

    PARKERAnd when you get to the oldest age group, they're the ones that are really hanging on to this old image of 1950s, 1960s, which really, as I said, isn't a reality for people anymore. So I think again that we may see attitudes changing as people experience things different in their own lives.

  • 13:24:28

    PARKERAnother thing that we really haven't mentioned, and I think this is an important point -- we might get back to it later -- is that, you know, in spite of this -- the progress that women have made and the contributions that they're making to their families and to the economy, you still have relatively few women at the upper echelon of leadership across the board, whether it's corporate America, government.

  • 13:24:47

    PARKERI mean, again there's change there but there's something that, you know, perhaps happens to women midcareer or when they have children that for some women sort of slows down that progress or stalls things out to a certain extent. And that's another thing that I think, you know, we're going to see that changing. But in Sheryl Sandberg's book got at this, too, that, you know, her philosophy was that women need to lean in early on and keep striving for that goal to reach high leadership positions.

  • 13:25:14

    PARKERAnd, you know, we're definitely not -- we're seeing big contributions now in this four in ten who are providing for their families. And -- but, you know, we're not seeing it, as I said, at this upper echelon of leadership.

  • 13:25:27

    NNAMDIOn the upper level. Nichole, thank you for your call. We've got to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation about women as breadwinners. You can join it by calling 800-433-8850. If you're part of a family where the woman earns more than then man, tell us how it affects family dynamics. You can also send us a Tweet at kojoshow or email to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:27:27

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Kim Parker. She is an associate director with the Pew Social and Demographic Trends Project and one of the authors of a new study from the organization on breadwinner moms, which is the topic of our conversation today. We're also joined by Howard Ross, diversity consultant and principal at Cook Ross, and author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming organizational community to strengthen people, purpose and performance.

  • 13:27:52

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Howard, families have long hoped for better childcare options, more flexibility, greater access to paid leave. Do you think studies like this one will prompt policy changes?

  • 13:28:06

    ROSSWell, I think the kind of normative changes that we're seeing in society around this will ultimately prompt those changes. I think we see more and more people who are either in positions to influence those decisions who have to deal with these issues, or people whose family members have to influence these decisions. And I think one of the things it speaks to -- we were just shouting about this at the break, Kojo -- is that just having more women in these positions doesn't mean that organizational cultures have yet begun to shift from sort of a masculine model.

  • 13:28:33

    ROSSAnd I'm talking culturally now in terms of the masculine role model that we see. And so we have more and more women in an organization that are still basically designed, in a lot of cases, around that old Leave-it-to-Beaver model. So the notion that well, if you're at a high level somebody at home is taking care of your kids. And increasingly as we have more people, both women and also men, who are being asked to and want to spend more time and get more involved in the raising of their children, these models are going to start to change.

  • 13:29:00

    ROSSAnd that's where I think we're going to see much more in the way of things like childcare being seen as a positive thing that we can do for it, not only for the people in our organization but so that the people in our organization can be more effective as leaders in the organization because they know that their children are being taken care of.

  • 13:29:16

    NNAMDIKim Parker, two questions for you. First, the specific one that came in the form of a Tweet from Jules, "Is there a rise of stay-at-home dads along with these changes? Are men leaving the workplace or choosing to have more flexible jobs?

  • 13:29:30

    PARKERI don't think that we have data on that directly. If there is a rise in stay-at-home dads there's still a relatively small group. We did a report earlier this year on modern parenthood and that really -- we actually went and looked at time use data and looked at how mothers and fathers are spending their time. And it's true that fathers have really adapted their time use to this new and changing role of mothers. And fathers have taken on more childcare, more housework. And the roles have started to converge a little bit at home.

  • 13:30:01

    PARKERSo I think that that reality has freed up women and allowed them to have more flexibility if their husbands are willing to share in some of those at-home responsibilities.

  • 13:30:11

    NNAMDIWell, I'll have Laura in Bethesda, Md. address the second question I was going to address to you. Laura, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Laura. Are you there? Well, Laura was there. Laura...

  • 13:30:23

    LAURAI am here. Can you hear me now?

  • 13:30:24

    NNAMDILaura's back. You're on...

  • 13:30:26

    LAURAI am.

  • 13:30:27

    NNAMDIGo ahead, Laura.

  • 13:30:28

    LAURAThank you so much for having this discussion today. I think it's absolutely fantastic. And I am in the category of one of the few, I guess, is the -- a woman in the household making albeit slightly more than my husband. But it is sort of raising some interesting dynamics. I find that I'm even quite quiet about it even myself within our own family structure. We sort of try to carve out our respective roles and figure out how we're going to raise our new son that we have, but also be respectful of his career and my husband's career and mine.

  • 13:31:01

    LAURAAnd I think it's fantastic we're having this discussion because I do think it's really -- you know, the findings themselves aren't surprising to me at all. This is something that I am seeing and feeling regularly. But I really do think there's a call for new models and sort of innovative approaches to really try to maintain women in senior positions and make it so that we can really provide some effective leadership within organizations and still continue with our careers as we're simultaneously trying to raise a family.

  • 13:31:31

    NNAMDILaura, I get the impression from you that you see this as an ongoing kind of negotiation in your own relationship with your own partner. Is that how it's evolving?

  • 13:31:42

    LAURAIt is and it's interesting because we have a four-month-old child now. And thankfully I've been able to work it out with my employer so I have a little more flexibility. I've just come home at lunch so I can actually see the baby over lunch and then get back to work. But it does come up in interesting ways where I think early on, for instance, I had asked my husband, you know, well, certainly for the night feedings or the night shifts, you know, we're going to have to start to balance those.

  • 13:32:08

    LAURAAnd the comment was immediately -- and don't get me wrong, my husband's extremely supportive -- but the immediate reaction is, well no. I mean, I have to go to work, and then looking at it in the context of, well so do I. So we sort of negotiated at home even on an ongoing basis that, okay, once his, you know, high intensity work activities wind down after a couple of weeks, well then we'll sort of transition to have him maybe helping more in the evenings, as I'm also just now transitioning back into the workforce after a few months.

  • 13:32:40

    LAURASo it is sort of this ongoing challenge and I think part of the challenge I'm finding is just not having a lot of models out there where I see it's really worked well in terms of having both partners maintaining careers and also both partners being fairly active at home with the child rearing.

  • 13:32:58

    NNAMDIOh, there is a model, Laura. You're it.

  • 13:33:02

    NNAMDIYou're the model but I'd like -- be interested in hearing from both Kim and Howard on Laura's experience. Kim Parker, first you.

  • 13:33:09

    PARKERWell, I think it sounds like Laura's got a great situation. But I can hear even in her voice how challenging it is, you know, juggling these things. Especially when you have a young baby and you want to be at home with them. And then you've got, you know, a career that's on a certain track and you want to keep pushing forward with that. But, as I said, in our time use analysis we really did find that there are husbands out there who are stepping up and taking on more childcare and more housework. And I think that that does take some of the burden off of women.

  • 13:33:40

    PARKERSo I think -- and I think that we'll see more of that as we see more and more younger women going into the workforce. One other things we haven't mentioned is the huge educational gains that women have made in recent decades that have positioned them so that they can pursue different types of occupations and higher levels of work and, you know, bigger leadership positions. So, you know, that could be a mixed blessing for women as well because it opens up more opportunities for them, increases their earning power, but then puts them in positions in workplaces that might not be as family friendly.

  • 13:34:14


  • 13:34:15

    ROSSYeah again, you know, we're social animals and so, I mean, I agree with everything Kim just said. And we still deal with the fact of how we feel and how the people around us have us feel. I was a single father for ten years and it was interesting to see, first of all, I think at some level it was a little bit easier at that point because it was seen sympathetically as being a single father, but whereas single mothers were sort of, you know, left to deal with what they dealt with.

  • 13:34:38

    ROSSBut if we think about the way people are raised in our culture traditionally -- and I think these things are changing as we see more role models, as Kim said earlier -- still there's a fundamental orientation in most people's sort of natural way or visceral way of looking at things that mom will predominantly be responsible for the kids. And dad will predominantly be responsible for the job. And in most families that shows up.

  • 13:34:59

    ROSSAnd so when mom -- as in Laura's case, when mom has to say, hey will you take the feeding at night, it feels like an extra burden to the father because he may not have been raised thinking about that. Whereas for her, you know, having a kid and balancing all that was all part of the training that was there, the social training we had. And so we're constantly trying to deal with these changes and integrating them into our relationships and into the way we see ourselves.

  • 13:35:23

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Laura. Women, you mentioned earlier, Howard, have been outpacing men when it comes to graduation rates. Actually that's been happening since the mid '80s. Should we be concerned about men's prospects at all?

  • 13:35:36

    ROSSWell, I think one of the things we need to really look at -- and this is -- you know, the new breakthroughs we're having in the neurosciences and cognitive sciences, show this, you know, foundationally. And that is that schools are not designed optimally for children's learning. And they're particularly not designed that way in the sense that we take these young kids in and we put them in rows of chairs and we sit them there.

  • 13:35:55

    ROSSAnd there is some evidence that girls may adapt to that better than boys do. There's also lots of other evidences that suggest that those things are -- the very social things are impacting kids at different ages. I think that any societal structure that we have, which has inequity where one group is succeeding and another group is failing, is problematic. And if we change the structure that had men succeeding in education and women not having that opportunity and replace it with one in which women are succeeding and men are having less opportunity or less success, that's not fixing the problem.

  • 13:36:25

    NNAMDIWe got a problem.

  • 13:36:26

    ROSSWhat we need to be looking at is what kind of educational systems -- how do we learn from what we're learning about the way people think and the way they learn that can create educational structures in which all different kinds of people could be successful. The same thing is happening cross culturally, Kojo, that we see that people from different cultural groups, the children from different cultural groups have more problem with certain kinds of educational structures and learning environments than people from other groups.

  • 13:36:48

    NNAMDIKim Parker, we got this email from Dorothy. "You mentioned choice versus necessity but I earn more than my husband purely by chance. He went through a wrongful termination with a restaurant which had low pay in the first place and had sporadic hours, whereas I work a 9 to 5 office job . Do you think this is common? Also do your statistics only include couples with children?"

  • 13:37:09

    PARKERThis particular report, since it was on breadwinner moms, we did focus on couples with children and households where there are children under the age of 18. But there certainly is data out there on all couples and other types of family situations. So I don't have that data at my fingertips, but it certainly is available.

  • 13:37:29

    NNAMDIOn to Brenda in Rockville, Md. Brenda, your turn.

  • 13:37:34

    BRENDAHello, Kojo. This is the first time caller.

  • 13:37:36

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:37:37

    BRENDAAnd, Howard, I believe, yes what the previous -- and I'm from the '70s. I'm American with African and every other blend that you can name. And as an RN professional at one time, I was making more than my now ex-husband. With the children we sort of worked it out. We were able to do the -- you know, work it so that the shifts were that one of us was with our children for the most part.

  • 13:38:04

    BRENDABut what I question, I guess growing up military and my mother being a homemaker, my grandmother actually worked outside the home but my mother was a homemaker. Went to Germany and of course looking at the culture there our societal norm is that they realize that it's important to have the parent or the caretaker or, you know, usually the mother to be home. And their structure is such that they are able -- and I lived on the economy so I know what I'm talking about -- that they are there the first three years. And they do not lose their job or their, you know, benefits or whatever.

  • 13:38:40

    BRENDAAnd we were there -- because my granddaughter plays with her -- one of her children. She got pregnant again, and again they did that. I'm not saying that Americans could do that because we're not set up like their system, but...

  • 13:38:51

    NNAMDIWell, allow me to raise that question because, Kim, the number of single mothers who have never married has increased significantly over the years. Have workplaces made it easier for single moms to balance work and home?

  • 13:39:06

    PARKERYeah, I'm not that well versed on the, you know, policies of different workplaces and the changes that have occurred in that arena. But my sense is that things haven't gotten a lot easier for those moms and that part of the reason that they work, it's just that economic necessity if they're the only wage earner in the house, they've got to put food on the table and provide for their family.

  • 13:39:33

    PARKERAnd we saw some evidence in our poll earlier this year of sort of the impact that the recession has had on the desires and needs of women in terms of what's their ideal work situation. And a much larger share now than in 2007 of women say that their ideal situation is to work full time. Bur we found in our data that those weren't necessarily women who were choosing to work fulltime. They were women who needed to in order to provide for their families. And there were, you know, even higher shares of unmarried mothers and women sort of at the lower end of the economic ladder who were saying, fulltime work is my ideal.

  • 13:40:10

    PARKERSo I think it's -- we should be careful about these terms choice and necessity because sometimes it's hard to disentangle those things, particularly, you know, whether you're a single mother or a married mother, it's not always a choice. It could be a necessity in both cases, and the same thing goes for choosing or not choosing. So I think we need to be careful with those terms, and it's complicated for people.

  • 13:40:30

    NNAMDIBack to you Brenda. Sorry to have interrupted you, go ahead.

  • 13:40:34

    BRENDAOh, no. I just wondered, you know, basically I've always questioned, you know, the professional whatever, the sacrifices made, that -- I don't know. It's just -- it's very complex, like she said. But when you have children, it's like the government, the daycare, you have a child just for a daycare or a government or entity or whatever to take care of that child. I mean, it's just -- I don't know. I question it. I wonder are there studies that are being done on connecting the dots, the effects on the children.

  • 13:41:06

    BRENDAWhat effect is it having on the children to have their mom, you know, as far as I know, women are the carriers of life, and they're the only ones that if they choose to breastfeed, that can breastfeed. You know, what is the effects? I mean, why are we not questioning that?

  • 13:41:23

    NNAMDIBrenda -- Brenda is struggling with the difference between the traditional role of women and the fact that there are now more than 40 percent of women who are the primary earners in their homes.

  • 13:41:35

    ROSSYeah. Yeah. Absolutely. And it -- I mean, first of all, this whole question of choice versus necessity, I couldn't agree more. It's like -- it can be like counting angels on the head of a pin. I mean, there's really -- first of all, you know, when we make a choice, we're governed by things that we feel like we're supposed to do. So if we're making a choice externally, it may feel because we have an inner necessity to do that in order to feel okay about ourselves, for example, so it's hard to determine where choice ends and necessity does.

  • 13:42:01

    ROSSI think that one of the things that the research shows about children in these kinds of situations, particularly children who go into daycare or childcare settings early, is that how healthy they are is a function of how loving their family environment is and how conscious parents are about taking care of them and making sure their needs are met, and that seems to indicate far more consistency than anything about a particular gender who's doing that. And I do think that there's evidence to suggest that there are things in the work place that are happening that allow easier care of children while people are working.

  • 13:42:35

    ROSSI mean, there's far more access to daycare for example than there was 20 years ago. There are all kinds of -- you know, we didn't have 20 years ago massive organizations like Bright Horizon and daycare centers popping up everywhere and childcare popping up, and I think that that's one thing that certainly makes it, you know, be able to get quality -- relatively high quality daycare for people assuming that that's the kind you choose.

  • 13:42:56

    ROSSAnd the other thing, of course, is telecommuting which makes it a lot easier for people to stay home with their children if they have to, if you've got a child who's sick , or to sometimes work a couple of days a week from home and the like. But most of those things are more accessible to higher income women or to higher income families than to lower income folks. So that also contributes to that gap that Kim was talking about in the research, I'm sure, is that, you know, if you've got the access to have things that can support you and focusing on your job and still raising your family, it's going to allow your career to advance more.

  • 13:43:25

    NNAMDIBrenda, thank you very much for your call. As a matter of fact, what policy changes would you like to see put in place to make it easier for families to balance their work and their home lives? Give us a call at 800-433-8850, or send email to kojo@wamu.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:45:27

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about women as breadwinners. Kim Parker is one of the authors of a new study from the organization the PEW Social and Democratic Trends Project on Breadwinner Moms. She joins us from studios in Washington. She's associate director with that project. Howard Ross is a diversity consultant and principle at Cook Ross. He is author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance."

  • 13:45:53

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. We got a tweet from Mark. "My beautiful wife's income passed my years ago, and I am very proud of her. We bought a home thanks to our higher family income." We got another from Ray who said, "I would answer that last question for you, but I need to run and get the kids from the bus." On now to the telephones where Chris in Cheverly, Md. awaits us. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:46:27

    CHRISOh, hi, Kojo. Thanks again for your presence on the air. It's always good stuff. Yeah. I'm -- about five years ago, my wife and I sort of swapped roles in this way. She went to being primary earner and gets all of the benefits, and I went to primary care and supplemental income duty. So for our family it's, you know, requires a little (unintelligible) occasionally or concerns about career trajectory, but mainly it's been a real blessing, speaking from the male side of the equation that the field that, you know, the freedom and flexibility to have the kind of time with my kids I've been able to have with three boys who are just entering their preteen and teenage years.

  • 13:47:18

    CHRISSo that part's been very good. But what I actually wanted to bring up was the community impact side of this issue. Both my wife and I work in youth service and community-based non-profits, and there's just no getting around that parents are not as available to -- not only to their own kids and their own families sometimes, but to the community -- the other kids in the community, and not just kids and youth, you know, elder care.

  • 13:47:54

    NNAMDIWhat -- what is the reason for this lack of availability? We are working too hard? We are working too long hours?

  • 13:48:00


  • 13:48:01


  • 13:48:01

    CHRISWhen you have both parents working, often working late hours, challenging hours, and again with this increase in single mothers, it's -- there's just more need for support, and that, you know, I'm growing up in the same town -- raising my own kids in the same town where I grew up, and whether it's formally through likes boys and girls clubs, scouts...

  • 13:48:24

    NNAMDIYou have a support system.

  • 13:48:27

    CHRISRight. But that used to be anchored by parents.

  • 13:48:31


  • 13:48:32

    CHRISThere was usually a mom was home, and dads got home at more reasonable times.

  • 13:48:37

    NNAMDIWell, Chris, the times they are a changing. I'm going to ask Howard what do you see as the relationship between the issue we're discussing, which means women as breadwinners, and the issue of parents in general not having as much time as they used to have to raise their children because we are working more.

  • 13:48:55

    ROSSWell, I mean, I think that it's, you know, to some degree they're obviously related in the sense that to the degree more women are working and more women are talking on job responsibilities that are at a higher level and therefore might go past the, you know, the 9:00 to 5:00 kind of criteria, that is, you know, if I'm working 9:00 to 5:00 at an hourly job, and I punch in at 9:00 and I punch out at 5:00, I can pretty much depend on being, by 5:30, back home to pick up the kids from soccer practice, for example.

  • 13:49:21

    ROSSBut if I'm in a job that might go anywhere from 7:30 in the morning until 11 o'clock at night, as Chris is describing, depending upon what my daily schedule is, or that an emergency might come up, it becomes more problematic for that. I think it's true for both parents, but at a time when women were mostly focused on the home, or at least pointed towards the home, and obviously we know that for a lot of people who had no choice, especially low income people, they didn't have a choice but to work in any case, but for people who did feel like they had some alternative in terms of that, they were mostly focused on the home, then those things were part of the equation.

  • 13:49:57

    ROSSAs we've brought people into organizations, and those organizational structures haven't changed, but we just have more and more women there, it becomes -- it's like the pressure is building up even more and more. So now I'm still expected to do all that stuff by people around me, by my in-laws, by my family, and yet I've -- my bucket is filling and filling on the work side, and that -- something's got to give in that circumstance.

  • 13:50:18

    NNAMDIChris, thank you very much for your call. Kim Parker, one major economic event predated this survey, a recession. Here's an email we got from Judith. "Could you ask your guests' opinion on the following the effect that the economic down turn has had on this phenomenon? I know a guy who was chief legal counsel for a big DC quasi-government entity, and hasn't been able to find a new job since a new organization head came in and cleaned up, cleaned shop."

  • 13:50:48

    PARKERYeah. I think -- and I've heard a lot of stories like that. I think that in our data, we weren't able to capture the experiences of, you know, job loss of a spouse forcing the other spouse to have to go into the work place, but as I mentioned earlier, if we -- when we look at data from the beginning of 2007, before the recession officially started, and the data that we collected most recently, we saw a significant increase in the share of women saying that their ideal situation was to work full time. And again, this is more out of necessity, and the challenges that were being presented in the economy.

  • 13:51:23

    PARKERAnd we know that men and women both suffered during the recession, you know, a majority of workers either they suffered some sort of job-related trauma, whether it be loss of a job, a cut in pay, a cut in hours, you know, all kinds of different things. So I think that the recession had very real impacts on people in terms of, you know, a lot of job loss, and maybe the other spouse having to pick up the slack, or also just a sense of vulnerability, that maybe your job isn't as secure as you think it is, and maybe you want to be working full time because then that way you can, you know, strengthen your position in the organization or, you know, so there's a lot.

  • 13:52:02

    PARKERI mean, the recession I think is -- I think that these trends in bread winner moms have been something that we've been tracking over time, but I think you can't take the recession out of the equation in terms of, you know, what's happened just in the past five years.

  • 13:52:14

    NNAMDIHere is Ed in Arlington, Va. Ed, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:52:18

    EDThank you, Kojo. I wanted to ask your guests how rising wages for women may interact with income disparity, particularly, you know, there was the argument around the time of the recession of the, you know, the one percent versus the 99 percent. How much of the increase in the disparity of incomes is due to two income households where the women are now earning more?

  • 13:52:42

    NNAMDIAny data on that at all, Kim Parker?

  • 13:52:44

    PARKERWell, we have a little bit, and I think, I mean, the income -- when we talked at the beginning of the show about these sort of two very distinct groups of mothers that we have in the breadwinner mom category, the income profiles of those two groups are extremely different, and the gap is huge. The married moms who are making more than their husbands, they're living in very affluent households, and making well above the national median income, whereas the single moms are making less than half of the national median income.

  • 13:53:12

    PARKERSo I think this trend is sort of, you know, it will have a mixed impact. In those households with the married couples and women making more money, it's probably going to help to decrease the wage gap. But in the single mother-led households, I don't think that we've seen a lot of upward movement in terms of wages and income in, you know, in recent decades.

  • 13:53:35

    NNAMDIIn fact, Howard, despite the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women are still making significantly less than men for doing the same work. What are the implications of that inequity as the role of women continues to grow within the work force?

  • 13:53:49

    ROSSWell, yeah. It's pretty interesting. I know that the Office of Accounting and Budget measured between 2000 and 2010 that the percentage of women's salary versus men's salary went from 79 percent to 81 percent, and this was arguably during the decade that we did more to focus on that issue than ever before in history. At that rate we'll achieve equity in about 2100. So clearly that -- it's still there, and one of the things I think that happens in a lot of cases is that there's a huge drop off that begins to occur when women become of child rearing time, and that is that people will -- if you look at people who are younger, let's say younger than 30, you see this sort of rise of women, and then things begin to happen at that stage when child rearing becomes a factor, and we have to make these decisions and try to figure out how it works out for our family.

  • 13:54:37

    ROSSNow, as Kim said, I think that the uncertainty of the economy contributes to that in the sense that you can't plan for -- I think people feel at this point, you can plan for what's coming ahead. There's no sense of knowing that if I, for example, take four or five years out of my career whether I'm a wife or a husband, a mother or a father who's taking care of the children, then I can just pick that up later. I can plan for that because what the economy has given us over the last few years is uncertainty, not only what the future of the economy is, but what the economy is even going to look like, the structural social economy is going to even look like.

  • 13:55:09

    ROSSAnd as a result of that, I think people are holding on for dear life, rather than doing any kind of -- that same kind of family planning that they might have during times in the past when we had more consistency. And that sense of stress just adds to this whole equation. How do we work it out, the tension between people, both of whom are feeling that stress in a lot of cases, and how does it work out.

  • 13:55:28

    NNAMDIWe got an -- and thank you for your call, Ed. We got an email from Iliana, that's a little long, so I'll try to get through it as quickly as possible. Iliana writes, "I'm a new mom, a professional with a post-grad degree, married to another professional, so we're financially comfortable. I had a baby more than a year ago. The idea to lean in is laughable. Let's be honest. Once you have a child, professional life is over. Why? Simple. Not enough paid leave, maternity, sick, vacation, you name it. Not enough day care options. Simple as that. Every time I here all the press about the "Lean In" book, I want to scream because the whole system is stacked against families.

  • 13:56:00

    NNAMDI"If you cannot afford to take time off to recover after an illness, if you get punished financially for having a child, what is a woman supposed to lean against? I really wonder of the author of "Lean In" was referring to women in the USA, Norway, or Canada maybe." She said, "I'm thinking about writing my own book. It'll be called 'Tough Luck: How Family Life Will Keep You from Succeeding in your Career.'" Howard?

  • 13:56:21

    ROSSWell, I, you know, I have my own concerns about "Lean In," and Iliana points to some of them. I mean, I think that the problem with "Lean In," I think and, you know, as it takes us back to a time where the message for women was if you act more like men, you'll be more successful. You know, at least some of it does. And, I mean, I'm not suggesting that there's no value in what she's saying, but I do think it's problematic if we feel like that the solution to a system which makes it easier for men to be successful than women because it's built around male normative -- socially normative behavior, is to teach women to act more like men, that's a problem for me.

  • 13:56:53

    ROSSFor me, what we need to do is to look at that socially normative behavior and say what are the structures that we can create in our organizations and in society which can allow both men and women in their more natural styles to be successful. And I should say that that doesn't mean that all men and all women are the same. We all have some combination of the masculine and feminine elements, but both of those should be valued, and that's when we begin to look at the kind of structures that Iliana is talking about.

  • 13:57:13

    NNAMDIAnd if as Kim Parker's survey has found out we have 40 percent of women with children under 18 as primary breadwinners in their households, I suspect that suggests that there needs to be structural and policy changes, Kim Parker.

  • 13:57:28

    PARKERYeah. And you know, we stopped short of that in our research, and when we're crafting surveys we don't look at impacts and we don't look at incomes outcomes, because we don't want to take advocacy positions. But it seems like these discussions often end up here. Like what -- if this is the reality for women, what can be done to make it more manageable for them.

  • 13:57:47

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Kim Parker is an associate director with the PEW Social and Demographic Trends Project. She's one of the authors of the new study for the organization on breadwinner moms. Kim Parker, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:57:59

    PARKERThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:58:01

    NNAMDIHoward Ross is the author of "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance." He's a diversity consultant and principle at Cook Ross. Howard, always a pleasure.

  • 13:58:12

    ROSSThank you, Kojo. Thanks so much, and thanks to PEW for another great study.

  • 13:58:15

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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