Bread Winning Moms

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2President’s Letter

3PwC Welcome

4Who Are the Breadwinning Moms?

5Chance or Choice

8Dual Role


10Dropping Old Roles & Celebrating New Ones

11What Breadwinning Moms Need Now



Dear Friends,


I am proud to present the results of our new Working Mother Research Institute study, Breadwinning Moms: The Working Mother Report.

This latest installment in our ongoing series of studies about factors that influence America’s working moms looks at an emerging group of high-achieving women who are breaking new ground by outearning their husbands. We wanted to know how breadwinning moms feel about their status, and whether being the primary earner in a family makes them feel better about their work or just more stressed about their responsibilities.

We found that, of course, the tale is complicated. But there is one factor that reliably correlates with higher satisfaction levels for breadwinning moms: choice. A breadwinning mom is typically happier about her work and home life if her family has decided together that her career is going to be more lucrative than her partner’s and arranged their lives accordingly. In other words, women who embrace the role of primary earner (rather than being forced into it by default—say, when the husband’s work is cut back) are more likely to have work that motivates them to succeed and support systems that help them get the laundry done.

We would like to thank PwC — which has appeared on the Working Mother 100 Best Companies list 19 times—for sponsoring this important research and helping to promote women to pass the CPA exam. Breadwinning Moms follows the publication last fall of How We Flex, in which we explored all the ways workplace flexibility enables moms to pursue satisfying, lucrative careers while also spending time with their precious families. In What Moms Choose, we surveyed moms to find out why they choose to go back to work or stay home after having babies (meeting the needs of kids and paying for child care top the list of opt-out factors). And in What Moms Think, our groundbreaking initial Working Mother Report, we learned that moms who see their work as a career have higher satisfaction levels than moms who work primarily for a paycheck.

We invite you to read about the modern American family in this report and also to visit to download each of the Working Mother Research Institute’s studies.

Carol Evans


Working Mother Media

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PwC is proud to sponsor the Working Mother Research Institute’s latest study focused on the experiences of breadwinning moms. This important research explores how being the primary earner influences the way mothers view their dual roles. The conversation is particularly timely in light of recent media debates about women “leaning in” and “having it all.” The study demonstrates how challenging it still is to combine work and parenthood. It also provides important insights about the role choice plays in driving satisfaction. Moms and dads who choose to be breadwinners are much happier than those who achieve that status by chance. This satisfaction spills over to all aspects of juggling work and life. Yet social expectations continue to get in the way. A majority of respondents still believe that society is more comfortable with men playing the breadwinner role.

For companies, what’s clear is that breadwinning moms are a growing demographic. Understanding their needs will help us retain, develop and advance a critical part of our talent pool. Acknowledging breadwinning as a valuable component of mothering is a first step. Then we need to highlight breadwinning moms as role models and tell their stories more widely. This will go a long way toward eliminating the false perception that working moms are less committed to their careers. We hope these findings spark a new dialogue within your organization and lead to new solutions.

Jennifer Allyn

Managing Director, Diversity Strategy


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Let’s start with what we already know: Women now make up 53 percent of all recent U.S. college graduates,1 47 percent of medical school students,2 47 percent of law school students,3 and 31 percent of students in MBA programs.4 And although we still bemoan the statistics at the top ranks of corporate and government structures—women comprise only 4 percent of CEOs5 and

17 percent of members of boards of directors at Fortune 500 companies6 and 18 percent of the U.S. Congress7—the number of women earning the big bucks is larger than it’s ever been, and rising. According to a 2013 report from the Pew Research Center, women are the sole or primary provider in four out of ten households with kids—and two thirds of them (67 percent) are single mothers.

Yet even as the number of breadwinning moms increases, the way this change is affecting the dynamic within American families and society has barely been explored. When Mom earns more than Dad—a situation that our new survey finds is the case for 29 percent of partnered women with kids under the age of 18 living at home—who does

the laundry? Who organizes the piano lessons? And most importantly, who feels the most pressure when it comes to the work life juggle?

In our new Working Mother Research Institute (WMRI) study, we focused on moms with partners (in the United States, 68 percent of kids ages 0 to 17 live with two parents8) to get a better look at how family roles change when moms make more money. “My husband does get teased by his co-workers sometimes about being married to someone who makes more,” admits Michelle Y. Stevenson, a marketing executive who’s married to a firefighter, Todd, with whom she

Who Are the Breadwinning Moms?

More than a quarter of all partnered working moms outearn their spouses. That’s the finding of our new Working Mother Research Institute survey, which shows how women’s new earning power can sometimes clash with our old expectations about career, family and the roles we play.

Who Responded

A snapshot of the breadwinning moms and dads

who answered our survey questions.






Average age



Average years



in workforce

Average family income

$67.9 k





executive roles




ment responsibilities




4 archives/2011/05/b-school_gender_mix_changing_slowly.html


6 board-directors



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has a 7-year-old daughter, Lia.

“But he doesn’t let that sort of thing get to him.”

“That sort of thing ” isn’t just happening at the firehouse: It’s perva- sive. Our survey of 2,000 working moms and dads, including 820 breadwinners (228 women and 592 men), found that more than 70 percent of both dads

and moms, all of them breadwinners (meaning they earn more than their spouses), say they believe society is still more comfortable with men as the primary earners. In this report we take a look at how breadwinning moms are dealing with changing realities and the stress of lagging societal adjustment.


“My husband and I never had a conversation about who’d be the breadwinner,” says Amy Leslie, a director of marketing and business development at Olympus America (and mother of 3-year-old Bryce) of her husband, Brandon, a network administrator. “For the first half of our marriage, he outearned me, but I rose quickly at my company, caught up and surpassed him.”

Amy is the primary earner in her family—and that’s just fine with Brandon. “He’s more laid-back. He teases me that he’ll be a stay-at-home dad someday.”

Family Dynamics

Most women who end up as primary

earners didn’t plan it that way.

likely to be pleased by their status than women

Our study finds that, like Leslie, the majority of breadwinning moms—72 percent—fell into their role by chance or luck. In contrast, 59 percent of dads say their breadwinner status was planned: They discussed it with their partners and decided the man’s career should take precedence. The 29 percent of breadwinning moms who made a conscious decision to be the main earner in the family say that they’re more ambitious than their husbands, more dedicated to their careers and more likely to be promoted.

“Yes, I’m more ambitious. And I have more opportunities, too,” says Alison Carbone, an associate director of cate- gory management for snack company Mondelēz International and mother of Nicholas, 7, and Gabriella, 2. Her husband, Paul, a police officer in North- ern New Jersey, is key to her success, she says. “He’s very supportive of my career. If I have to work late or travel, we figure it out. He always knew he’d have a wife who worked, and he is proud of that. We wanted to have two careers, to give our kids a good life.”

Breadwinning moms like Alison, who say they’re pleased to be the primary earner, are much more likely to be career-oriented: 70 percent of them say they’re not just working for the money. By contrast, among breadwinning moms

who’d prefer their spouses to be the breadwinner, just 46 percent consider their work a career. (Seventy-four percent of breadwinning dads who are pleased to be the primary earner call themselves career-oriented.)

Who earns more also makes a difference in how working parents see their jobs. Sixty-eight percent of breadwinning moms say they have a career, not just a paycheck, compared to 42 percent of moms who earn less than their spouses. By comparison, 72 percent of breadwinning dads

see their work as a career, compared

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Career or Paycheck?

Male breadwinners are more likely to consider

themselves career-oriented.

How We See Our JobsEarnings Affect

Parents who earn more than their spouses are much more

likely to agree that their work is a career.

to 47 percent of fathers who earn less than their wives.

Still, being a breadwinner can be a mixed bag—as many men and single moms already know. “The biggest hurdle is that it’s up to me to feed the family—always. That’s a lot of pres- sure and responsibility,” says Michelle Stevenson. Fewer than two thirds of the breadwinning moms (61 percent) in our survey are satisfied with their compen- sation (compared to 67 percent of dads). And just over half (58 percent) are satisfied with their partner’s financial contribution to the family.

In addition, Alison Carbone says,

she and her husband view their careers in different lights. “Sometimes, after

a long day, Paul will say, ‘Hey, only 12 more years till I can retire!’ But our kids will be in college then. And I work in the private sector, where nothing

is secure. What if something happens to my job? I didn’t feel the pressure so much before I had children, but with two of them, it’s always there.”

“The recession delivered a seismic shock, dramatically changing how we view work,” says Ellen Galinsky, presi- dent and co-founder of the New York- based Families and Work Institute. “Today, most families need two earners; you can’t just depend on one income. And women’s educational attainment is outpacing that of men, putting them in a better position to be managers and professionals than ever before, though not at the highest levels. It’s a perfect storm—economic factors and attitudes equaling a major values shift.”

That shift is shaking things up, for sure. But not as fast as primary-earner moms would like. There are still big gaps in how breadwinning moms and dads feel about the help they get and the power they have in pursuing their careers. Breadwinning moms feel much less satisfied than dads in a host of criti- cal areas: the support they receive from their partners in meeting work demands, the respect they get from co-workers, how much their opinion counts at work, career prospects and, as mentioned above, compensation. In these areas our

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survey found satisfaction gaps between breadwinning women and men of 6 to 8 percentage points.

However, if we look more closely at moms who are pleased to be the family breadwinners, the picture changes.

Many more of these women are satis- fied with their partners’ support, for instance: 80 percent are satisfied, compared to 84 percent of men. (The bigger gap exists between these women and the “not so pleased” breadwinning moms: only 58 percent of the latter feel supported by their partners.)

What helps: Flexibility, a good boss and a job that doesn’t eat up too much time at home. “I work for a great boss,” says Bethany Rusch, assistant dean of administration and finance at University of Wisconsin Fon du Lac and mother of Ava, 9, and Miles, 7. “My phone isn’t constantly ringing when I’m home, I’m not answering emails at 10 at night, and I don’t have to travel— that’s really important. I’ve definitely looked for that kind of support.” Our survey also found that flex in its many forms is important to breadwinning moms. Indeed, 65 percent told us that they can use flex without fear of negative consequences (the percentage for dads was the same), while more than 69 percent say

Happiness at Work

Breadwinning moms are less satisfied than breadwinning dads

in several key work life areas.

Flex for Breadwinners

Dads who are primary earners have more ability to influence their schedules and are less likely to have their career commitment challenged than breadwinning moms.

I cannot get away from work Flexible work has invaded my time with my family

Breadwinning Dads Breadwinning Moms

My commitment to work is challenged by others Working flexibly is attractive to me My employer allows for flex in where work is done

My employer allows for flex in when work is done I can use flex without fear of negative consequences I have the ability to influence my schedule

I would reject a job if it meant frequent overnight travel I can take time o! from work when necessary

I would work part-time if I could have a meaningful career


B R E A D W I N N I N G M O M S 7


Happiness at Home

Breadwinning moms find that their income doesn’t earn them

breaks at home: In our survey, they’re less likely than breadwinning dads to be satisfied with how their families share responsibilities.

master’s [degree]. But my husband, Barry, was working hard, too, trying to launch a business,” recalls Bethany Rusch. “Finally, I made a list of all the things it takes to run our home and then another list of things I’d be comfortable with him doing. I told Barry to pick two. He took over grocery shopping and cooking on the weekends. That made a huge difference.”

“The division of labor at home has not shifted to compensate for women working more,” says economist Sylvia Hewlett, founder of the Center for Talent Innovation in New York City. “In addition, there’s a huge dispar- ity between what men think they’re doing and what they’re actually doing. More than half of working dads believe they’re splitting the load with their wives—but their wives say they’re doing less than a third of the work. Men want to be there but don’t quite deliver.”

Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, agrees: “Women who have ‘fallen’ into a breadwinning mode

they would turn down a job that required extensive out-of-town travel.


Yet many breadwinning moms don’t find that their greater earning power buys them a lot more help at home—at least, not from their partners. These women are far less satisfied than breadwinning dads in almost every area of their home life, from how much time their spouses spend taking care of the kids (71 percent of bread- winning moms are satisfied versus 85 percent of breadwinning dads) to how much housework their partners do

(60 percent of breadwinning moms versus 76 percent of breadwinning dads are satisfied).

Satisfaction levels for breadwinning moms are extraordinarily low in two areas: having enough time to take care of themselves (50 percent) and family financial stability (47 percent). And notably, the gaps versus male breadwin- ners were significant: 15 percentage points in both cases. We also found big satisfaction gaps between breadwinning moms and dads related to the choice

to be a working parent (11 percentage points), the level of respect received at home (8 percentage points) and the relationship with their partners (8 percentage points). All of these can contribute to a sense of overall frustra- tion among breadwinning moms.

“I was pretty much doing it all, plus working full-time and getting my by chance are more apt to be trapped in old ways of controlling how the house and family are run.” So, adds Evans, “you have the breadwinning mom bringing home the bacon and the husband not quite there in terms of co-parenting and co-housework.”

“It’s definitely not even-steven,” says Amy Leslie. “My husband does the yard work, cat litter and garbage. Housework isn’t even on the table. I’m in charge of that, and anything to do with our son.”

It doesn’t help that raising our kids has gotten to be such a big, time-inten- sive job. Hewlett has seen the effects in her own family, which includes five chil- dren ranging in age from teenager to

40-plus. “My youngest got run around to many more afterschool activities. I

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even did Suzuki violin with my daugh- ter, with her tiny violin, twice a week,” says Hewlett. “When I was raising my older kids, it was an easier age—an era of benign neglect, if you will. You’d hang out with them on the weekend. You didn’t have to plan so much. We’ve upped the ante and increased the burden on ourselves.”

“I had to stop trying to make him do things my way. So if I see a big pile of towels and they ’re folded wrong, I just tell myself, you know what, they ’re folded.”

— M A R Y H I L L I A R D M O R A N

“My husband and I split the house- work pretty evenly, down to the laundry—he washes, I fold,” Alison Carbone says. “But when it comes to our kids, I initiate more. He’s not the one making sure our kids have clothes that fit or restocking their supplies. He’s not on the Facebook mom’s board arranging playdates, getting feedback on our son’s new teacher and finding out who’s in his class. He wouldn’t think of these things—but they’re important.”

“Women are more likely to be the alpha caretakers: The psychological responsibility for the children is still primarily theirs,” Galinsky says. “But younger men don’t want to be stick figures in their kids’ lives. They want to be truly involved with their children and families, to spend more time with them and take more responsibility. It’s important to their identity. There’s a real societal shift in men.”

Our survey finds that breadwinning women still see themselves as the prime movers at home. But as with work life, when we look more closely at women who are pleased about being a breadwinner, we uncover a different story: Eighty-nine percent of the “pleased” breadwinners are happy with how their partners share child care duties—more than any other group, including breadwinning dads (87 percent), and far more than “reluc- tant” breadwinning moms (58 percent). Three quarters of breadwinning moms who are pleased with their lot (75 percent) are also satisfied with how housework is divided, compared with fewer than half of the “I really wish I weren’t a breadwinner” moms.

To that end, a major factor in overall satisfaction levels among breadwin- ning moms is the question of whether the women and their partners planned for them to be the breadwinners—or whether it just happened by chance.

Awhopping 90 percent of breadwin- ners who’d made a joint decision with their partners are satisfied with how they both pitch in with child care—the highest satisfaction level for any group or any factor we looked at, as well as a big gap with “it happened by chance” moms (only 61 percent of whom were satisfied). Eighty-three percent of the “deliberate” breadwinning moms are satisfied with how housework is divvied up, compared with 80 percent of bread- winning dads and 46 percent of “by chance” moms.

Still, all the joint planning in the world—and a bigger salary to boot— doesn’t protect breadwinning moms from intense maternal feelings, and even regrets. “The first day I left my daughter at day care after eight weeks of maternity leave, I thought, What’ve I gotten myself into?” says Michelle Stevenson. “It was like the lyrics from the Five for Fighting song—‘Tear out my heart, feed it to lions.’ But I put myself into this role, and it was too late for me to change that.”


It’s not always easy for ambitious bread- winners to give up being alpha caretak- ers and homemakers, points out Mary Hilliard Moran, a business underwriting manager at BB&T in Winston- Salem, NC, and mom of Edward, 5, Gloria, 2, and a baby on the way (at press time). Her husband, Peter, a chef, started staying home once they had their second child. “He’s just better at it—very patient and creative. And he knows what makes each kid tick. Plus he’s a great cook,” she says. “But I had to stop trying to make him do things my way. So

if I see a big pile of towels and they’re folded wrong, I just tell myself, you know what, they’re folded.”

In an era of dual-income fami- lies, letting go—even a little—may be the only path to sanity, says Working Mother Editorial Director Jennifer Owens, herself a breadwinning mom. “I know from experience, and from our readers, that co-parenting and co-housework is not the future—it is the now for increasing numbers of families. Mothers are born leaders and innova- tors—and we’re changing not only the way work looks, but home life, too.”

Certainly, women sometimes have to dig deep to deal with the change that comes with being a breadwinning mom. “You suddenly have to become twice the person you were,” says Jessica Ripley, assistant building manager for the Chicago-based MacArthur Founda- tion, whose husband, Alan, stays home to take care of 18-month-old Madeleine (her job’s excellent salary and benefits make it possible). “I thought it’d be harder for Maddie. I had visions of her crying as I left for work. But it hasn’t happened. That’s made it a bit tougher for me. I wanted a traditional home, but it’s upside down.”

Dads are struggling with the new order of things, too. Take Nicole White, a pediatric nurse practitioner, who moved with her husband, Michael, and their son, Logan, 3, to Great Falls, MT, last year to advance her career. With the arrival of her second child, a daughter, Reagan, she and her husband decided that putting two little kids in day care didn’t make sense for the family, finan- cially or emotionally, so Michael made a change. “Michael’s an ‘accidental house husband’—he’s an ex-Marine and secu- rity guard,” says Nicole. “But once we

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Attitude Counts

Breadwinning moms and dads who report they are “pleased to be the breadwinner” are typically more satisfied than parents who say they aren’t happy about their status as the primary earner.

 made the decision that he’d stay home with the kids, he dove right in. It hasn’t been easy, though. When Michael asked our neighbors if Logan could have a playdate with their son, the dad said no.”


Jessica Ripley’s stay-at-home husband, Alan, also feels the difference in support offered to moms versus dads at home. “My husband’s a rock-star dad, but he knows he’s not the norm,” she says. “Where are the playgroups for kids with at-home dads? And where are the changing tables at restaurants? They’re not in the men’s room.”


“Young women are just as ambitious as young men,” says Ellen Galinsky. “But about two thirds still take on greater responsibility at home. Although they’re significant economic providers, they still put as much time into family life as mothers did three decades ago because that’s centrally important to them.”

Melissa Gonville and her family

are on the leading edge of that shift. A senior marketing director at JPMorgan

Chase and mom to daughter Kamryn, 15, and son Keagan, 12, Gonville makes more money than her husband, Greg, who recently launched a franchise business, Honest-1 Auto Care, from their home in West Chester, PA. Gonville sees the advantages, for

all of them: “Greg gets to spend more time with the kids. I can do my job because I’ve got his support. Kamryn understands she can do anything she wants. And Keagan knows he has the option to stay at home with his kids someday.”

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Melissa is proud of what she’s achieved in her career—especially how she’s built her skills as a manager of and mentor to the next generation of women breadwinners. “I led the rollout of a self- guided program to help women at my company find mentors,” she says. “I’m also on the board of YWCA Delaware and just stepped down as president. And being a role model in my career for my daughter—I’m very proud of that.”

Melissa admits she takes an “ego hit” from time to time, but her husband helps her puts things in perspective. “When I don’t get to chaperone the field trip, and I’m unhappy about that or the kids are, Greg reminds us that I’m already doing a lot, and that there’s value to everything we do. I’m support- ing my family—that’s really important. And our kids get to see that this is the way families work now.”


As the number of breadwinning moms increases nationwide, employers must recognize the added pressures experi- enced by these women—as well as by the growing numbers of dads in dual- career families—and consider the best ways to support them, their engage- ment and their productivity.

“This is a big sea change,” says Working Mother Media’s Carol Evans. “I think the country as a whole is not doing enough for working mothers.

unseemly for a woman to outearn her spouse to a partner who may not be shouldering enough at-home chores—as well as at work. It is also vitally impor- tant that women earn the same amount as male peers for the same work. (Our survey finds that fewer female breadwin- ners than male breadwinners—61 percent versus 67 percent—are satisfied with their compensation.) Companies should scour salary data to make sure uncon- scious biases aren’t keeping women’s salaries lower than those of men.

The partners of breadwinning moms also have work to do to better recognize their changing role in supporting the family and their spouse’s career. While the rise of dual-income families means the need for co-parenting and co-house- keeping is growing, the gap between men’s and women’s views of who does what at home still remains. Many working dads believe they split the load equally with their wives; however,

working moms still feel like they’re doing more than half. It’s time to shrink this gap, both in terms of partners step- ping up and breadwinning moms letting go of their role as caretaker in chief (if only a little bit).

To that end, for the breadwinning moms themselves we say: Embrace your role as the primary earner for your family. Ask for the help at home and the flex at work that will let you be the employee and the parent that you truly want to be. Our research finds that the women who are comfortable with their role as their family’s primary earner tend to be more satisfied in

all areas, from how at-home tasks are divided to the level of respect they receive at home and work.

From employers to partners to the increasing numbers of breadwinning moms nationwide, the time to celebrate and normalize the idea of high-earning women is now.

Look at what we’re not providing: We have no mandated paid family leave in this country; companies have to volun- teer to offer that basic benefit. And you have very little flexibility.”

Yet some companies do get it, notes Evans: “While as a group, only 16 percent of U.S. companies offer any paid mater- nity leave, the 2013 Working Mother 100 Best Companies all offer fully paid time off—eight weeks, on average. And every 100 Best Company offers flexibility and supports women’s advancement.”

Employers must recognize the social pressure their highly valued employee moms may face outside the office—from a society that inexplicably still finds it


The Working Mother Research Institute developed a national survey and fielded it through a series of email blasts sent by Survey Sampling International (SSI) in July 2013. A total of 2,000 employed indi- viduals submitted online questionnaires. Bonnier Custom Insights (a division of Bonnier Corporation) received and tabulated the responses, which were analyzed by Maria S. Ferris Consulting LLC.The final results are documented in this report, which was written by the Working Mother Research Institute.

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The Working Mother Research Institute, a division of Working Mother Media, is home to the Working Mother 100 Best Companies, the Working Mother Best Companies for Multicultural Women and the National Association of Female Executives’ Top 50 Companies for Executive Women, among other initiatives. WMRI produces insightful benchmarking reports and important research papers on work life and the advancement of women and also conduct surveys, such as Breadwinning Moms: The Working Mother Report, to further culture change nationwide.

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Carol Evans

Jennifer Owens

Annie Finnigan

Krista Carothers

Kristen Willoughby

Michele Siegel

Kaisa Filppula

Tierney O’Brien

Eric Siry

Sabrina Hall

India Cooper







Joan Sheridan LaBarge

LaQuanda Murray

Jennifer Smyth

Peggy L. Beane

Katrina Crawford

Alisa Nadler

Linda Bowers

Lauren Macri

Michelle Gonzalez

Nancy Intrator

Jessica Goldman

Helena You



Kelli Daley



Heather M. Idema


Paule Anne Kaziewicz

Working Mother Media

2 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10016


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