Women are Winning in the Workplace…Kind of

The Pew Research Center released a report last week under the headline “Breadwinner Moms.” The census-based report detailed findings that 4 in 10 households with children below the age of 18 are now led by women who are either the sole provider or who make more money than their spouse. The good news was also sprinkled with bad news as the number of single-parent households led by women continues to rise. In essence, the report told us much of what we already knew. In any case, the title of breadwinner, though positive in tone, might be a bit misleading once the facts are drawn out.

Multi-racial business team sitting around an office boardroomThe report commentary was clear about the pros and cons of this data. But, some news outlets ran with the “breadwinner” trope while glossing over the inherent racial, educational, and economic gaps between those “breadwinners” and the single mothers who have no other partner in the household contributing to the bottom line. Only 37% of the 4 in 10 households were what one would traditionally refer to as bread-winning. These were married women who were out-earning their husbands in the workplace. But, the other 63% were single mothers. This latter group nearly tripled from 1960 to 2011.

The real truth is single-motherhood is becoming more and more common. And, these single moms tend to be black or Hispanic with no college education. Conversely, married women outpacing their husbands in wages tend to be white and college educated. The truth is single mothers have no choice but to be breadwinners. With no other adult in the household, they have been relegated to entry-level jobs with no promise of equal pay.

Women in the workplace are credited with things like the “disintegration of marriage” and broken families. All the while, changes in the economic environment have all but required that these women abandon the Leave it to Beaver ideals of June Cleaver cleaning scraped knees and baking meatloaves and American apple pies each day of the week. The negative opinions of working women seem to be in direct discord with the lighthearted breadwinner trope assigned just this past week.

Women are not usually breadwinners. And, they are definitely not really winning in the workplace. But, it is worth noting that major news sources, research centers, and mainstream commentators are willing to look at these issues women face in the workplace with at least a slight bit of attention toward the realities they face. The real question is: what are we going to do about it?

To start, a recommendation might be to ditch the happy-go-lucky labels like “breadwinner” and “out-earning.” Being honest about inequality for women workers is a healthy step toward a long-term solution. Hopefully, this new report will move dialogue in that direction in the very near future.

So, where is the silver-lining here? Well, frankly, I don’t see one. While it is impressive that more women have entered the workplace, it is still incredibly apparent that economic pressures, traditional standards regarding gender roles and the difficulty of balancing motherhood with professionalism result in undue stress on women regardless of their personal successes. Simultaneously, vast gaps in pay between the genders and races further elucidate a systemic problem which this country has yet to address and solve.


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