The on-going discussion on the rise of female earners is missing a main point. This isn’t just about women earning more than men; it’s about the widening gap between the wealthy and the working poor. ‘Men Vs women’ arguments are covering up another deeper topic – the growing class divide in America today.
The Pew Research Centre recently did an analysis on income trends in U.S. families. The headline that grabbed attention was that 40% of US families now have female breadwinners – women being the primary earners in the family. But that headline alone missed a bigger shift. The Breadwinner Moms article by the Pew Research Centre revealed, “Compared with all mothers with children under age 18, married mothers who out-earn their husbands are slightly older, disproportionally white and college educated. Single mothers, by contrast, are younger, more likely to be black or Hispanic, and less likely to have a college degree.”
While we can look at this as a story of women progressing, it’s also a story on the lack of fathers and the high cost of being uneducated in the US. In families consisting of single mothers, never married mothers are disproportionally non-white, and have lower education and income. Six-in-ten unmarried mothers are either black or Hispanic and nearly half have a high school education or less. Their median family income was $17, 400, the lowest among all families with children.
Essentially, the gap between the professional class, increasingly led by highly educated women and the poor, also led by working mothers, is widening at an alarming rate. Moreover most of the low earning families consist of single, non-white mothers with less access to education and good careers. These are the women who service the needs of the professional class; cleaners, cooks, cashiers – often working several poorly paid part-time jobs to ‘bring home the bacon’ for their kids.
When unmarried women are the breadwinners, which is now the case in 25 % of U.S. households, the family’s average income is only $23,000 a year. More than half of the children in these homes are living in poverty. Glossing over this fact ignores the importance of having fathers in the picture. This is in stark contrast with the female breadwinners who are making more than their working husbands. These families are in a whole different income bracket; their median household income is $80,000 – usually made possible by the fact that both parents work in these homes.
Families are better off in virtually every way when there are two parents present. Contrary to how some of the media has covered this story, this shouldn’t be a competition pitting women against men. The progress that really matters is whether all American families are doing better. When we once again see the trend toward greater prosperity for all American families, then we will have a cause for celebration – and a truly meaningful headline.