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Half of all U.S. households with children under the age of 18 have a breadwinner mother—an earner: single, married, or head of household—that contributes at least 40 percent of household income. Breadwinner mothers of color are more likely to be single mothers.

Washington, DCNew report released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) shows during the pandemic, families depend on the earnings of working mothers to make ends meet, especially families headed by single mothers. In the U.S., half of households with children under the age of 18 have a breadwinner mother whose earnings account for at least 40 percent of household income.

The share of mothers who are breadwinners varies significantly by race and familial type:

  • 4 out of 5 Black mothers (79 percent) are breadwinners, with a majority of Black mothers (56 percent) raising families on their own.
  • 2 out of 3 Native American women mothers are breadwinners (64 percent), the majority of whom are single mothers.
  • Among White and Asian women, a little more than 40 percent are single mother breadwinners, while majority of White and Asian breadwinner mothers are married.
  • Across all states, Black mothers are more likely to be breadwinners, or contribute the lion’s share of the household income.
  • Among White mothers, the share of women that are breadwinners range from a low of 31 percent in Utah to a high of 58 percent in Vermont and the District of Columbia.

Taking on Dual Roles during the Pandemic— Although many women are considered essential workers and bring home a significant portion of household income in families, they still spend 37 percent more time on household and care work than their male counterparts. Black and Latina women spend nearly twice as much time on unpaid household and care work as their male counterparts.

With schools out, childcare centers closed and stay-home-orders in effect across the country, the caretaking demands placed upon mothers have increased significantly during the pandemic, forcing many working mothers into a near impossible position: take care of their children or risk losing their job.

“Without a clear plan to address the shortage of care and the possibility of long-term school closings, working mothers across sectors may be forced to leave the workforce or lose significant income. For breadwinner mothers, this will have a devastating impact on their family well-being and job security,” said C. Nicole Mason, PhD, President and CEO of IWPR.

“Long gone are the days where women’s income accounted for a minor share of household income. Women make up 50 percent of the workforce and many contribute more than 40 percent of all earnings to households. The significant share of breadwinner mothers across the country point to the need for greater pay equity and stronger public policies to support working mothers,” Mason said.

About the Institute for Women’s Policy Research

Founded in 1987, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research is the nation’s pre-eminent think tank committed to winning economic equity for all women and eliminating structural and institutional barriers to women’s full participation in the workforce and society.

IWPR builds knowledge and evidence to support policies that help grow women’s economic power and influence in society, close inequality gaps, and improve the economic security and well-being of families.