A few years ago headlines went bananas when Pew research found that four in 10 families with children lived in households with women who were the sole or primary earner. In 1960 that figure was just 11 percent. About a third of breadwinner moms today are married and the other two-thirds are single moms.

Overall, this is a seismic shift in family and gender dynamics. In families with married couples in which the wife is the primary breadwinner, the median family income is $80,000, $2,000 more than when the husband is the primary breadwinner, and $10,000 more than when spouses earn the same.

Moms who are breadwinners say there are time management and personal relationship challenges that come with the shift in roles. It all comes down to planning and communication, they say.

In this Working Moms Mean Business episode, I interview two women, both of them leaders within their fields, married mothers of two, and Birmingham, Ala., residents:

Harper and Warren share their personal stories of how they manage the time and headspace pressures of home life, careers and marriage, and touch on topics such as:

  • Supermom syndrome. Harper says she periodically struggles internally because she can’t go to every school meeting or event and manage her business. “Sometimes my husband shows up (at school functions and PTO meetings) and it’s not infrequent that he’s the only man there,” Harper says. “And I am proud of him for that.”
  • Couple dynamics. Other women have asked Harper if she is sure her husband is OK with her being the breadwinner and whether his ego can handle it. “I think that’s not giving men enough credit. His ego is just fine,” she says. “He and I check in with each other all the time anyway, but I would like to think we would do that even if the (roles) were flip-flopped. You know, are you doing OK, are you happy in the role you’re in? Are you being fulfilled in your life?”
  • Lessons for kids. Warren says she tries to lead by example and that it’s important for her daughters to “understand you really can be anything you want to be, in any career you want to choose, if you work hard at it and pursue education to get it.”
  • Measuring success. To gauge how she is doing as a mom, Warren says she has asked her children what they believe matters the most to her in the world. “I held my breath, thinking ‘please don’t say work, please don’t say work,’” and they didn’t. They said ‘We think it’s us and your family.’ ... That’s when you can take a deep breath and say, OK, they see it even though sometimes I don’t feel like a do such a good job at it,” she says.

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Articles by Emma Johnson

About the Series


While a majority of Americans believe that children fare better when their mothers stay home full-time, most American moms work – and research suggests having a working mom benefits children. Still, moms often experience guilt when choosing a career and motherhood. The Working Moms Mean Business series dives into the research, insights and success stories of this complex issue.