Skip to main content

Survey: Reluctant breadwinner moms are less happy

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 5:07 AM EST, Wed February 12, 2014
Christina Hendricks, right, as Joan Holloway Harris, who works in advertising, in "Mad Men." Christina Hendricks, right, as Joan Holloway Harris, who works in advertising, in "Mad Men."
HIDE CAPTION
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
Working moms of television
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New survey finds moms who didn't choose to be breadwinners less satisfied
  • Only 29% of breadwinning moms with partners chose to be primary earners
  • Both breadwinning moms and dads say societal attitudes about the roles still need to change
  • Women are the sole or primary breadwinners in four out of ten households with kids

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Samantha Sleeper, a fashion designer and co-founder of a tech company, didn't set out to be the primary breadwinner for her family.

"It was definitely not a conversation where we sat down and said, 'OK, I am going to go to work, and you're going to be more at home,' " said the Brooklyn, New York, mom of a nearly-1-year-old son. Her husband is a professional musician.

"We both worked, and then, by opportunity, I became the one who was working for more of the income," said Sleeper, who runs her own business designing women's apparel and helps lead Purely Fashion, an app connecting consumers with designers.

"I think there are mixed emotions about it," she added.

For working moms, it's about 'and,' not 'or'

In four out of 10 households with children, women are the sole or primary breadwinners, according to a 2013 report by the Pew Research Center. Now, based on a new survey, we have an idea of how many of these breadwinning moms are feeling about their roles.

The 'pleased' vs. 'reluctant' breadwinning mom

The national survey by Working Mother Media found that breadwinning moms who have partners and who didn't choose to be the primary earners in their families tend to feel less satisfied about their lives than women who consciously selected the role.

In the survey of 2,000 working moms and dads, including 820 breadwinners who have a partner, only 29% of the moms said they became breadwinners by choice, versus 71% who fell into the role by circumstance, chance or luck (59% of breadwinning dads said they chose the role).

Moms increasingly becoming breadwinners
More moms are family breadwinners
Can working moms 'have it all'?

When asked how satisfied they were on a host of questions related to family life, there were significant gaps between breadwinning moms who said they were pleased to be the breadwinner and those who said they would prefer that their partner outearn them.

Moms 'opting in' to find work doors shut

The survey found that 89% of the moms who were happy to be breadwinners were satisfied with how much their spouse or partner took care of the children, versus 58% for the "reluctant" breadwinners. Meanwhile, 75% of "pleased" breadwinning moms were satisfied with how chores were divided at home, versus 48% of the group who would prefer not to be the primary earner.

Fighting the impulse to rearrange the dishwasher

Gina Rau, a mom of two in Portland, Oregon, puts herself in the "pleased" category. When she and her husband got married and talked about having children, the decision that she pursue a career and he be a stay-at-home dad was "something we both naturally agreed to."

"For us, it's divided up as if both household manager and full-time career person are equal, so my husband takes care of most of the household and other responsibilities while I still participate but not to the degree that he does," said Rau, who runs her own business doing marketing and brand consulting for startups and larger companies.

That means learning how to let go, she added.

"You know, just like at work, I have to release responsibility to co-workers who are taking on a project, I have to release responsibility to my husband," said Rau. "If he's going to load the dishwasher a certain way, I have to not rearrange it because I would do it differently."

A drastic step to be taken seriously
Women opt back into the workforce
More people prefer a male boss

Work-from-home moms facing a juggling act, too

The survey also found big differences between breadwinning moms and dads overall when to comes to satisfaction with family life. No surprise, breadwinning dads report greater happiness: Seventy-six percent of men were happy with the division of household responsibilities, versus 60% of women, and 85% of men were happy with how the child care is being handled, versus 71% of women.

"Stuck in ... traditional roles at home"

Catherine Martines Mortensen, a public relations specialist who became the primary breadwinner after a family-run small business struggled, said she still does most of the household chores.

Martines Mortensen sometimes wishes her husband would pitch in more, but she also struggles with that role reversal, said the mom of two from Fairfax, Virgnia, whose kids are 16 and 10.

"Even though I enjoy being out in the workplace and I enjoy bringing in a paycheck, part of me still feels like ... I want to be that old-fashioned mom," she added.

Samantha Ettus, a work/life management coach, said that in many ways, women and men are "still stuck in sort of traditional roles ... even if they have big roles at the office."

Sleeper, the fashion designer and tech executive, said it's hard to change that mindset. "So, no matter how progressive I think I am, at the end of the day, if I come home and my house is still a disaster, I feel a sense of inadequacy," she said.

"Women tend not to have high enough expectations that their spouses will be partners, and so they accept treatment and roles at home that they might never expect at the office," said Ettus, who is working on a book about how working moms can have the best lifestyle possible.

Opinion: Why men should share equally in housework

"Let Dad be the dad he wants to be"

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace reports that societal attitudes might be slowly changing about breadwinning moms.
CNN's Kelly Wallace reports that societal attitudes might be slowly changing about breadwinning moms.

Carol Evans, president of Working Mother Media, who has been a primary breadwinner since her first child was born 27 years ago, said the survey shows that moms who outearn their husbands and who feel the primary responsibility for the house and the kids should learn to let go -- even a little bit.

"I'm always saying to (moms), 'let Dad be the dad he wants to be. Let him build his own relationship. Make him responsible for his relationship to the kids and to the house,' " said Evans, whose kids are 24 and 27.

One thing both breadwinning moms and dads agree on, according to the survey, is how expectations about family roles still need to change, with 74% of breadwinning moms and 72% of dads saying society remains more comfortable with men as the primary earners even after the recession.

No movement for women at the top in corporate America

"You still see commercials where it's the woman cleaning the floor, not the man cleaning the floor, like in my house. You don't see that," said Rebecca Hughes Parker, a mom of three who is her family's primary breadwinner and who admits to barely knowing how to use the washer and dryer.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

With the number of breadwinning moms expected to grow, society's portrait of the typical family is likely to shift. The impact on our children, however, is already apparent.

When Hughes Parker, who writes about being a breadwinning mom on her blog, and her family were picking pumpkins at a farm during the fall, they saw a hen with chicks. After they pointed out the chicks to their youngest daughter, who's 3, she looked at the hen and said, "What's that, their daddy?"

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing breadwinning moms? Chime in below in comments or tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter and CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
updated 12:49 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
While most parents think about having a 'sex talk' with their children, not as many think about talking about technology, and that is a big mistake, experts say.
updated 8:53 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Parents are too ambivalent about their kids' "privacy" online, writes Dr. Jodi Gold--they're either spying fruitlessly or afraid to shape their child's online footprint.
updated 8:55 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Is there an unspoken rule in Hollywood that celebrity parents can only pick unusual names for their kids?
updated 5:50 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The premise is simple: You can eat one marshmallow now or, if you can wait, you get to eat two marshmallows later.
updated 7:43 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
While most children wait and hope Santa visits them at home on Christmas Eve, this year dozens of Denver-area children went directly to the big man's arctic home turf.
updated 5:25 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Almost 300 students who had been rejected by Johns Hopkins University received a joyous shock over the weekend when the prestigious Baltimore school said they'd been admitted after all -- but they hadn't.
updated 5:09 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
There is no way around the topic of nakedness in front of your children without getting personal and slightly uncomfortable.
updated 6:55 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Teens might be shedding their rebellious reputations: A survey says they're doing fewer drugs, drinking and smoking less. But E-cigarette use is up.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Carol Costello asks whether American culture sends a message to girls that it's not cool to study math and science fields.
updated 12:44 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
It's that special time of year, when Christmas and Hanukkah toy sellers try to put children in a box.
updated 7:59 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Foodies and travelers: They're adventurous, they have discerning tastes and they love to discover a little-known jewel. Here's how to shop for them.
CNN iReport asked families with children with developmental and physical disabilities to share what their lives are like.
updated 7:00 AM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
Don't know what to get parents who are always on the move or kids who seem to have everything? This is just the list for you.
updated 11:45 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
You probably know LOL and OMG -- but what about IWSN, CU46 or IPN. It's all about KPC -- "keeping parents clueless."
updated 9:17 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
Out of control parties, sex and alcohol are some of the dangers kids might get into when left alone overnight. But some are mature enough to handle it. How do you know?
updated 11:58 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
Across the country and around the world, synthetic drugs are tearing holes in families.
updated 11:42 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
There's no place like home for the holidays -- and for one little girl in Cleveland, it's the only place.
Girl Scout cookie sales are entering the 21st century. For the first time ever, Girl Scout cookies will be sold online through a national platform called Digital Cookie. This breaks the organization's ban on e-sales of Thin Mints and Samoas.
updated 9:19 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Author/actor B.J. Novak
B.J. Novak is catering to kids. His first children's book tops the New York Times list of best selling children's picture books. But here's the catch: it actually doesn't have any pictures.
updated 7:20 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Hundreds of students walked out of their Oklahoma high school Monday to protest the school's response to the alleged bullying of three classmates who say they were raped by the same person.
updated 8:10 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
If it hasn't happened already, it likely will at some point: the moment you don't like one of your child's friends. What do you do?
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
updated 12:35 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT