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  • Katica Roy

Breadwinner Moms Are the New Norm: Here’s What You Should Know

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

When I fought for equal pay, I could never figure out why my children were worth less to society simply because their Mom was the breadwinner. My family is not alone.

Breadwinner Moms Are the Norm. Let’s Finally Recognize It.

Moms are the breadwinners in 40% of US households with children under the age of 18. That 40% is just counting breadwinner Moms. Look at this issue more broadly and you’ll find plenty of other households where Mom is not the sole breadwinner, yet her wages contribute significantly to the household income.

When we recognize that our families—our society—largely depend on the success of Mothers in the workplace, we can’t help but be troubled with the fact that, overall, Moms earn 71 cents on the dollar of their male peers, and 9 cents less than women overall. And that’s all Moms—not breadwinner Moms. Breadwinner Moms earn 76 cents on the dollar. Still 4 cents lower than women overall and 24 cents lower than all families.

Because a parent’s income influences measures such as how much children will earn in the future, if they will go to college, and if they will become teen parents, Mom’s inequitable pay is debilitating our 21st-century society.

Setting Up Working Moms to Fail

Our current system is setting up working Moms, breadwinners especially, to fail. When Moms fail, families fall. Example of bias against Moms in the workplace abound. Here are three:

1. Mommy Tracking

Breadwinner Moms, like all working Moms, experience being “Mommy tracked.” They face the myth that they are not as committed to their work simply because they are Moms. This is a myth because we know that working Moms are the most productive employees in the workforce over the course of their careers. We also know that women face Mommy tracking before their children are even born.

2. Mommy Wage Drop

Women experience a 4% earning drop in hourly wages per child. The effects of this wage drop strike at lower-income families the hardest since lower-income families are more likely to rely on women’s earnings. Closing the gender pay gap alone would cut the poverty rate in half for working single Mothers. We would also add over $290B to families’ earnings, 16 times that of what was spent for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), by closing the gender pay gap.

We cannot choose whether or not we want to pay for people. We pay for people regardless. The question is: how do we want to pay for them?

3. Mommy’s Purses and Shoes Fund

Unfortunately we often assume a working Mom’s income is secondary to her husband’s income. It’s believed that her income goes towards recreational spending…to buy purses and shoes. This assumption is simply not true. In fact, 34% of families with a working Mother, breadwinner or not, rely solely on her earnings. Her wages are not for purses and shoes. Her wages are for groceries, housing, and child care. Ultimately Mom’s wages are for her family’s success.

The Next Generation’s Labor Force

We falsely attribute the gender pay gap and gender inequity as only impacting women. That’s false. When we leave breadwinner Moms out, we leave the next generation labor force behind. Gender inequity impacts the families relying on Mom’s earnings.

Over the past 36 years, through increasing their labor force participation, women have added $2 trillion to the US economy. Over almost the same time frame breadwinning Moms have risen in prevalence, reaching 40% almost a decade ago. It’s been holding almost constant since then.

Ensuring equity for breadwinner Moms is an issue of fairness as much as it’s an issue of ensuring the future growth of our economy. The US is facing a 5MM workforce shortage in less than two years; leaving the next generation behind is not something our nation can afford.

What’s Next for Breadwinner Moms

Let’s be clear: breadwinner Moms are the norm. What is not the norm is recognizing them as such. We still pattern match the breadwinners of society with fathers. In a world where women experience retribution for speaking up and 48% of fathers would like to stay home with their children, it’s time we shift our paradigm of who our breadwinners really are.

We can challenge our assumptions about working Mothers. Are they really less committed to their work than women without children? Are they really working for purses and shoes? This topic is about so much more than women. It’s about our children, our families, and our economy. It’s about today and tomorrow.


Breadwinner Moms aren’t going away, so let’s stop leaving women and their children—our future labor force—out of the economy.

Moms Equal Pay Day is 50 days after Women’s Equal Pay Day, on May 30th. The next time we recognize Moms Equal Pay Day, let’s do so from an understanding of what it really means to be a breadwinner Mom and how those extra 50 days are holding our economy back.


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