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Jennifer Glass

Research Findings

Mothers are the primary earners in growing numbers of families with children

February 10, 2022

About 70% of U.S. moms can expect to be primary financial providers before their first child turns 18.

In a substantial number of families with children, mothers, whether single or partnered, are now the primary breadwinner. More than 40 percent of American mothers solely or primarily support their minor children through their own earnings in any given year.

For most of the 20th century, except in wartime, says historian Stephanie Coontz, women who were the primary source of their children’s income were generally unmarried, divorced, or widowed. But for the past two decades, the most rapid growth in breadwinning mothers has been among partnered women. As late as 2000, only 15 percent of primary-earning mothers were married. But by 2017, married women accounted for almost 40 percent of mothers whose earnings were the primary support for their families, based on the 1990-2000 Censuses and 2010-2017 American Community Surveys.

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