Article creator image

BY Georgene Huang

There Are More Female Breadwinners Than You Think

Breadwinning women

Photo credit: Creative Commons

TAGS: Women in the workplace, Working moms

I recently had lunch with a woman working in the financial services industry, who was quite senior in her career. She confided in me that she was struggling with juggling the various home and work responsibilities she had and feeling like she couldn’t optimize either.

It all sounded like a very familiar story. Because of the huge number of women I’ve met through Fairygodboss, I have become accustomed to meeting women who share their difficulties about balancing work and the rest of their lives. Therefore, I nodded my head sympathetically through most of her story. It wasn’t until the middle of our conversation that I realized I’d been an idiot to assume that she was about to tell me she was weighing the pros and cons of “opting out” of the workforce. In fact, this woman was looking to me for advice about entrepreneurship as a way to control the work-life balance she wanted. Moreover, she was very concerned about entrepreneurship because of the financial risks it entailed. She was looking for advice about work — not about work-life balance. At that point, she felt compelled to explain to me that she was her family’s primary breadwinner.

I walked away from that lunch feeling quite embarrassed with myself. I had not said anything, but she probably assumed that I was making assumptions about her — and the truth was that I had been. I knew that she was married but why did I assume that she might be able to rely on her husband’s income to lessen the financial blow of becoming an entrepreneur? And moreover, why did I assume she was considering dropping out of the workforce in the first place? 

This experience inspired me to look into the data. In what percentage of American heterosexual marriages does a woman outlearn her husband? Would you guess 20% or 30%? It’s higher than you might think.

Women breadwinners
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the answer is 38%. However, that number does drop to 29% when the Labor Department looks at marriages where both the male and female partners receive pay for their work. In other words, in the 38% figure, the government is counting households and marriages in which only the woman works. And of course, it also leaves out households where people are simply co-habitating as couples (6.5 million of them opposite-sex and an estimated 0.7 million of them, same-sex).

If you look at households with children (irrespective of whether they include a married couple), a record 40% are led by mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family. As Pew Research Center puts it, “These ‘breadwinner moms’ are made up of two very different groups: 5.1 million (37%) are married mothers who have a higher income than their husbands, and 8.6 million (63%) are single mothers. These two groups of women are driving up women’s participation rates in the labor force to over 65%, even if they don’t share much else in common. For example, the married breadwinning moms are disproportionately Caucasian, college-educated and older while single, bread-winning moms are “more likely to be black or Hispanic, and less likely to have a college degree.”   

Why are all these statistics important? The growing number of women who are responsible for the financial and economic security of their families matters because managers and colleagues may assume that women don’t want (or need) a promotion as much as a man. It matters because those “reach” assignments, international placements, plum clients and business deals are just as financially important to a woman breadwinner as a man bread-winner. It matters because ventures capitalists and investors often assume a woman may have a financial back-stop, and be less aggressive or willing to take risks. And all of these assumptions hurt not only the women for whom it simply mischaracterizes — but also all the women who may very well have a traditional marriage and household finances, but who nevertheless want the difficult assignment, business deal, and promotion just as badly.

I learned a lesson from this lunch. Even those of us who think about and work on diversity issues every day are not immunte to making mistaken assumptions. Looking at the data and realizing that we’re inching closer to 50% of households being financially supported by women helps all of us keep some of our important assumptions in check.

Fairygodboss

Fairygodboss is committed to improving the workplace and lives of women.

Related Community Discussions

  • My company recently put in a nursing room/mother's room but it was designed in a way that the majority of the room is fogged glass - except one strip that runs right at sitting level that was left as transparent glass. I don't think it was done intentionally (men designed the room) but I now have to put up sheets of paper to cover the transparent strip of glass. Any idea on how to address this with my (all male) management team?

  • I recently had a child and worked out an arrangement with my manager to work from home 1-2 days/week. I'm the only female on my team and none of the co-workers have a similar arrangement. There have been discreet comments made about my schedule (mostly in a joking way) but it still feels uncomfortable. Has anyone else ran into this?

  • I need some advice. I recently took maternity leave, which ended up turning in to Temporary Disability Leave because of some medical complications I had after the baby was delivered. I returned back to work after being off for 24 weeks. I have returned to the same job and have tried to get back into the swing of corporate life + new baby (first time mom here) and have the opportunity to take an additional 4 weeks off paid by the state, but it needs to be taken and completed before my child turns 12 months old and that's fast approaching.

    I submitted a request to HR to take temporary leave of absence and my HR department is denying me the ability to take this leave, stating that I exhausted the 13 weeks FMLA that the company offers (has to offer) to all employees. They are saying that I don't qualify for this leave until a full 12 months after my initial leave started. Everything I have read online and everyone I have talked to say that FMLA and TCI leave are completely different and separate. Technically, I think I am allowed to take this leave, the State says I qualify for it, but it's now in my employers hands and I am afraid if they deny me, and I choose to still take the leave, that I will not have job security. The brochure talking about TCI doesn't say anything about FMLA being the deciding factor "http://www.dlt.ri.gov/tdi/pdf/TCIBrochure.pdf."

    Does anyone know what my rights are? Can I legally take the 4 weeks off, and still have a job to return back to? Given that I had to take so much time off, do I still qualify for job protection and benefits?

    Thank you for any an all help.

  • I am currently 36 weeks pregnant and gearing up to go on maternity leave at the end of the month. I recently came across a new job oppurnity that would be better for my family. I'm at the finishing stages of interviewing with this new company and I am worried that I will find out I got the job while on maternity leave. My question is, what happens to my maternity benefits and how do I go about leaving my current job without issue?

  • My friend just told me (she was trying to be nice) that I'm limiting my career potential because I don't wear makeup to work. Do you think she's right? Do I need to wear makeup to be "professional?"

Find Out

What are women saying about your company?

Click Here

Share This

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Share with Friends
  • Share Anonymously

There Are More Female Breadwinners Than You Think

There Are More Female Breadwinners Than You Think

I recently had lunch with a woman working in the financial services industry , who was quite senior in her career. She confided in me that she was strugg...

I recently had lunch with a woman working in the financial services industry, who was quite senior in her career. She confided in me that she was struggling with juggling the various home and work responsibilities she had and feeling like she couldn’t optimize either.

It all sounded like a very familiar story. Because of the huge number of women I’ve met through Fairygodboss, I have become accustomed to meeting women who share their difficulties about balancing work and the rest of their lives. Therefore, I nodded my head sympathetically through most of her story. It wasn’t until the middle of our conversation that I realized I’d been an idiot to assume that she was about to tell me she was weighing the pros and cons of “opting out” of the workforce. In fact, this woman was looking to me for advice about entrepreneurship as a way to control the work-life balance she wanted. Moreover, she was very concerned about entrepreneurship because of the financial risks it entailed. She was looking for advice about work — not about work-life balance. At that point, she felt compelled to explain to me that she was her family’s primary breadwinner.

I walked away from that lunch feeling quite embarrassed with myself. I had not said anything, but she probably assumed that I was making assumptions about her — and the truth was that I had been. I knew that she was married but why did I assume that she might be able to rely on her husband’s income to lessen the financial blow of becoming an entrepreneur? And moreover, why did I assume she was considering dropping out of the workforce in the first place? 

This experience inspired me to look into the data. In what percentage of American heterosexual marriages does a woman outlearn her husband? Would you guess 20% or 30%? It’s higher than you might think.

Women breadwinners
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the answer is 38%. However, that number does drop to 29% when the Labor Department looks at marriages where both the male and female partners receive pay for their work. In other words, in the 38% figure, the government is counting households and marriages in which only the woman works. And of course, it also leaves out households where people are simply co-habitating as couples (6.5 million of them opposite-sex and an estimated 0.7 million of them, same-sex).

If you look at households with children (irrespective of whether they include a married couple), a record 40% are led by mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family. As Pew Research Center puts it, “These ‘breadwinner moms’ are made up of two very different groups: 5.1 million (37%) are married mothers who have a higher income than their husbands, and 8.6 million (63%) are single mothers. These two groups of women are driving up women’s participation rates in the labor force to over 65%, even if they don’t share much else in common. For example, the married breadwinning moms are disproportionately Caucasian, college-educated and older while single, bread-winning moms are “more likely to be black or Hispanic, and less likely to have a college degree.”   

Why are all these statistics important? The growing number of women who are responsible for the financial and economic security of their families matters because managers and colleagues may assume that women don’t want (or need) a promotion as much as a man. It matters because those “reach” assignments, international placements, plum clients and business deals are just as financially important to a woman breadwinner as a man bread-winner. It matters because ventures capitalists and investors often assume a woman may have a financial back-stop, and be less aggressive or willing to take risks. And all of these assumptions hurt not only the women for whom it simply mischaracterizes — but also all the women who may very well have a traditional marriage and household finances, but who nevertheless want the difficult assignment, business deal, and promotion just as badly.

I learned a lesson from this lunch. Even those of us who think about and work on diversity issues every day are not immunte to making mistaken assumptions. Looking at the data and realizing that we’re inching closer to 50% of households being financially supported by women helps all of us keep some of our important assumptions in check.

Fairygodboss

Fairygodboss is committed to improving the workplace and lives of women.

thumbnail 1 summary