Laura Perrins is a former barrister turned stay at home mother. She campaigns for Mothers at Home Matter.
The award for misleading headline of the year must go to the BBC for this piece in the 100 Women series: How US mothers are the new breadwinners. Wow – you might think. If US Mums are out earning their husbands this really is a huge shift – but it is not. The majority of married Dads are still the primary breadwinners in the US, not that you would know this if you get your news from the BBC, which many of us do.
The body of the piece does at least acknowledge that ‘this story of financial revolution is really two stories.’ It continues that ‘ the majority of these breadwinners are single mothers. They have no choice but to be the primary earner in their families, for the simple reason that they are sole breadwinner’. They also – as the piece accepts – fall in the lower end of the socio-economic scale.
In addition to this, single mothers are disproportionately black and Latino and only 18 per cent are college educated. Their median household income is $23,000; that’s compared to $57,100 for all married couples with children. A growing percentage of single mums, particularly those with less education, are “never married,” as opposed to divorced or separated. But then “US Single Mums are often disproportionately black or Latino and much poorer than their married sisters” does not make for a great headline.
Of the married women, the set up remains very traditional: in only 22 percent of married couples with children under 18 are women the primary earner. And many of these have had this role foisted upon them out of necessity and not choice as their husbands got the boot in the great Recession, also known as the Mancession. I for one, do not think Dads losing their jobs is something to be celebrated.
But do not tell this to the BBC. They are celebrating the not-so-feminist revolution. They rejoice that things will shift at home for a couple such as ‘Janet and John.’ They ‘may both have a heavy work load, but when Janet’s salary is $100,000 (£62,500) and John’s is $70,000 it becomes more important that Janet can go on that business trip, work late or fill in at weekend. What does that do to John? Suddenly it means he has to pick up more of the home duties. Women’s ability to earn more has a direct impact on the relative involvement of dads – and not in a bad way.’
Well, that is just hunkey-dorey for Janet and John. And with a joint income of $170,000 things will be just peachy for their kids in particular. They should be able to maintain their position in the middle-class and with all that assortative mating little Janet and little John are sure to find equally well-educated and well earning partners. It is interesting to note that among college graduates in the US, only 12 per cent of first births are outside marriage. For those who do not graduate from high-school 83 per cent of first births are outside marriage, and these make up a much poorer segment of the population. So things are only going to get worse for the single mums on an income of $23,000. And so the cycle goes on leading to what Charles Murray has called a Coming Apart of America (not that you will read much about him on the BBC) where the dual earning social conservative middle class pull further and further away from the poorer parts of society.
So for the minority of very well educated women who out earn their partners it is part of a joint income. Dad may do a bit more of the washing but he is still pulling in well-over $50,000. They and their friends in the liberal media may talk a good liberal talk, but they walk a very traditional walk. They get married, they have children within marriage, and to enable two uber-careers they may even employ some single mothers to do the annoying jobs of cleaning and looking after the kids. So revolution maybe – but not in a progressive way.