5 Surprising Facts About Breadwinner Moms

(Image credit: Mom feeding baby image via Shutterstock)

More American moms than ever are the breadwinners in their family, according to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center. Working mothers are now the sole or primary source of income in 40 percent of all U.S. households with kids under 18, Pew found. In 1960, that number was just 11 percent.

But not all families with breadwinning moms are the same, and the public still has varying opinions about women heading up a household. Here are five facts from the report that might surprise you:

1. Most breadwinner moms are single

Today, there are 5.1 million married mothers with a higher income than their husbands, but they only make up 37 percent of all breadwinner moms, according to Pew. Most breadwinner moms in the United Sates — 8.6 million, or 63 percent — are single mothers, and there's a big demographic gap between the two groups. Married mothers who earn more than their husbands are disproportionately white and college educated, and they have a much higher total family income than households led by a single mother, $80,000 in 2011 compared with $23,000 for single moms.

2. Married couples earn more with breadwinner mom

Among families with a married couple at the helm, total income is higher when the wife is the primary breadwinner. Pew found that the median family income was $80,000 in 2011 when a mother earned more than her spouse. That was roughly $2,000 more than the total median income for families with a father breadwinner and $10,000 more than the total income for families led by couples with the same income.

3. Americans still ambivalent about women outside the home

A whopping 79 percent of respondents in Pew's survey rejected the idea that women should return to their traditional roles in the home, and 63 percent disagree that it is better for a marriage if a husband earns more than his wife. At the same time, 51 percent said children are better off with a stay-at-home mom. Only 8 percent said the same about dads. Men and women had different views on the matter, Pew found. Whereas 57 percent of men said children are better off if their mother stays home, 45 percent of women said the same. [5 Ways Motherhood Has Changed Over Time]

4. More married mothers better educated than husbands

Education levels of all women are on the rise, which may be contributing to the increased share of mothers who out-earn their husbands. Whereas most married couples come from similar educational backgrounds, the proportion of families with a more-educated mom is growing. In 2011, 23 percent of married mothers had earned a higher education than their spouses, up from just 7 percent in 1960, Pew found.

5. Concern about single moms is fading

The share of single-mom households has grown over the past several decades. Within that group, the share of never-married mothers is on the rise: 44 percent in 2011, compared with 4 percent in 1960. But concern about the growing trend of single moms seems to be fading. Sixty-four percent of Americas said it was "big problem," Pew found. While that's still a majority, it's down from 71 percent who said the same as recently as 2007.

Younger generations and Democrats are less concerned about the uptick in unwed moms than older adults and Republicans. Among adults under 30, 42 percent saw it as big problem, compared with 65 percent of those in their 30s and 40s, and 74 percent of the 50 and older set. Fifty-one percent of Democrats identified the trend as a big problem, while 78 percent of Republicans shared that view.

The Pew report was based largely on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data and a recent April 25-28 survey that polled a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults through phone interviews.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.