In a gender shift, more moms now breadwinners

Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 3:02 p.m.


The number of working moms who are the sole breadwinners in their families rose last year to an all-time high, and the number of stay-at-home dads edged higher, in a shift of traditional gender roles caused partly by massive job losses.

The number of moms who were the only working spouse rose for the third straight year, according to Census Bureau figures released last Friday.

The number of dads who were the only working spouse dropped, and the number of stay-at-home dads ticked higher.

According to the Census data, the increase in the number of moms as the only worker was seen across all racial and ethnic groups.

But it was biggest among black women, whose numbers rose from 9 percent in 2007 to 12 percent last year as black men suffered disproportionately higher rates of unemployment.

The share of Hispanic moms rose from 5 percent to 8 percent, while the share of white non-Hispanic women rose from 4 percent to 7 percent and the share of Asian women grew from 5 percent to 7 percent.

The figures are for married couples with children under 18.

"The economic crisis is heavily affecting families, and what the latest data show is that gender roles are flexible and are going in the direction of egalitarian roles," said Pamela J. Smock, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan.

She said the shifts could have lasting effects after the economy rebounds, as people become more accustomed to the roles of breadwinner moms and stay-at-home dads.

In most households with moms as breadwinners, both parents were working until the husband was laid off or retired, and the wife remained in her job.

In other situations, a non-working wife may have rejoined the labor force, in a growing industry such as teaching or health care, to sustain the family income after the husband was let go.

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