The Real Reason Most ‘Breadwinner Moms’ Aren’t Happy

This article was originally published at the Washington Examiner.

In 2013, the media praised the Pew finding that mothers are now the sole or primary breadwinner in 40% of American households. What they didn’t tell you is that a whopping 63% of this group is comprised of single mothers. Ergo, the real story is the enormous swell of single mothers in America.

But we didn’t talk about that. Instead, the media lumped all employed mothers under one umbrella as if they were one and the same and touted this phenomenon as though it were a sign of progress.

Fortunately, new data from the American Community Survey breaks this demographic down further. To be clear when it comes to what we call “breadwinner moms”: Among married, heterosexual couples, only a quarter of American wives are the primary breadwinners in their family.

What’s more, they’re not doing well.

“Breadwinner moms are 55% less likely to be very satisfied with their family life than mothers who are not the primary breadwinner, even after controlling for the household division of labor, family financial status, gender ideology, and an array of other background variables,” writes Wendy Wang, Director of Research at Institute for Family Studies. She adds, “On other measures, including marital satisfaction and whether the couple feels close and engaged in the relationship, female breadwinners also score lower than their peers who earn less than their husbands.”

To be clear, this is not a comparison of employed mothers vs. at-home mothers; it’s a comparison of all married mothers who who earn less than their husbands and married mothers who earn more. So: at-home moms, yes; but also mothers who work part time or in less demanding/lucrative jobs than their husbands.

If you’ve read a fair amount about marriages in which both parents work full time and year round, you’ll notice a theme: that the wives in these families are often stressed out and guilt-ridden. They’re simply doing too much and, understandably, can’t get it all done.

You’ll also notice that the proposed solution to this problem is almost always the same: men need to step up their game! If husbands did their part at home, their full-time working wives could handle the load. “At a time when more women are family breadwinners, perhaps it is time for husbands to step up and take on more responsibilities on the home front,” writes Wang.

In other words, it’s men’s fault. As if men don’t take enough heat as it is, what with their very nature being viewed as toxic, now they’re to blame for their wives being overburdened for choosing to do the impossible.

But how can men be to blame when Wang herself admits married fathers “devote about as much overall time to work and family as married mothers”? Indeed, when we compare the total amount of work mothers and fathers perform both inside and outside the home, they’re practically even (although for the record, we shouldn’t be keeping score). Women spend more hours on housework and child care, yes. But men put in significantly more hours in the labor force.

The real stickler in these marriages is, as Wang notes, conventional gender norms. Although here again she gets it wrong. Wang blames these norms on societal expectations rather than on the innate desires of women and men. We simply refuse to acknowledge biology when it comes to the work-family dilemma, and it is this denial that creates inertia.

Conventional gender norms exist for a reason: they move with our biological propensities rather than against them. Accepting this truth doesn’t mean there isn’t, or shouldn’t be, any overlap in sex roles—there’s never been more overlap!—but it does mean that when marriages swim with the tide rather than against, they have an easier go of it.

When wives out-earn their husbands, it weakens the marital dynamic—for several reasons. Wives tend to view the home as “their” domain and are attached to it in a unique and primal way. As a result, they take on the more emotional aspects of parenting—Did the baby just cry out? Does Susie’s outfit match? Is the house clean enough?—and are more attentive to daily household chores.

Husbands, on the other hand, tend to focus like a laser beam on their jobs for one reason: to provide and to protect are at the core of their identity. A husband’s job is not his singular means to care for his family, but to him it’s paramount. Thus, a man who is stripped of this role feels unsettled.

And as it turns out, wives who earn more feel unsettled as well—mainly because the relationship becomes, ironically, less equal. Why? Because the dynamic between husband and wife winds up feeling more parental than sexual.

When a wife knows she can rely on her husband, irrespective of whether or not she’s employed, her respect for him comes naturally. Women want to feel as though they’re protected and provided for, even if they don’t technically need it. That’s part of what fuels sexual attraction—and it’s the reason why, when the roles are reversed, the sex often dies and both partners are unhappy.

I know it’s not popular to suggest conventional sex roles are, to a large degree, fixed. But the evidence suggests they are. Thus, it makes perfect sense that married breadwinner moms are 55% less likely to be satisfied with their family life than mothers who are not the primary breadwinners.

They’re fighting human nature. And that’s a losing battle.

Suzanne Venker

Suzanne Venker is an author, columnist and radio host known as The Feminist Fixer. She helps free women from feminism so they can find lasting love with men. Suzanne's newest book, WOMEN WHO WIN at Love: How to Build a Relationship That Lasts, will be published October 2019.

Reader Interactions


  1. The solution to this problem always the same: men need to step up their game! If husbands did their part at home, their full-time working wives could handle the load. “At a time when more women are family breadwinners, perhaps it is time for husbands to step up and take on more responsibilities on the home front,” writes Wang. It’s men’s fault. Men are toxic, AND now they’re to blame for their wives being overburdened for choosing to do the impossible. Yet Wang herself admits married fathers “devote about as much overall time to work and family as married mothers”? When we compare the total work mothers and fathers perform both inside and outside the home, they’re practically even. Women do more housework and child care. men put in significantly more hours in the labor force.

    This is what happens for feminists who live in ivory tower theory. People who live in real life know that their theory is balderdash. It doesn’t work. No, it spectacularly doesn’t work.

    • Unfortunately the numbers show that the women not in the ivory tower do not know it doesn’t work. If they understood that they would stop trying to force nature to their whim and give up on the idea of ‘having it all’, just as men have long since done.

  2. Conventional gender roles go back in most cultures to before recorded history began. They are stable energy forms. They work.

    Let’s look at one couple you described, where the woman made much more than the man. Do you remember Steadman Graham, and Oprah? I don’t know if that was a front, to cover non-traditional stuff, or not. Let’s assume it was as presented. Steadman was a very successful businessman. Being seen with Oprah may have helped him. Marrying her, though? Steadman was smarter than that. How does Oprah enter hypergamy? She can’t. All that money, and the best she could hope for is boy toys.

    People in stable gender roles created the population that produced us. Unstable gender roles require much high energy, to maintain, so they are not stable. Children raised in very unstable arrangements do very much worse in life. This is extremely well documented. Feminists hate children enough to abort them, or to destroy their lives, in unstable families. It is hatred. Let’s call it what it is.

  3. and single mothers are the least happy of any adult women. And women’s happiness has been going down for the last 40 years, as measured in surveys

  4. “The Obama administration is trying to distance itself from remarks made by long-time Democratic adviser Hilary Rosen. She said that Mitt Romney’s wife, Ann, a stay-at-home mother of five who has cancer, has never worked a day in her life. The ironic part — because of that idiotic statement, she may never work another day in her life.” – Jay Leno

    “Let me tell you something — if you’re the mother of five boys, you never had a day off in your life, OK?” – Jay Leno

    “The teenage birth rate… is now the lowest it’s been in 70 years, and people are wondering why. Is it due to a resurgence of sexual abstinence? Is it due to teens acting more responsibly? Or is due to the fact that ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’ is so awesome that boys don’t care about girls anymore?” –Jay Leno

  5. One thing never talked about as far as men ‘stepping up’ has to do with this…

    When women are single/dating how much housekeeping do they do?

    How much material stuff do they accumulate that requires maintenance before they marry?

    The delta in these areas would be very interesting. I suspect that men have a very hard time keeping up in stepping up in their role compared to women’s ability to expand their stable of things requiring stepping up by their man.

    • When you balance out the cost of having a woman, with all the extra maintenance required, a thinking man realizes that if it weren’t for the children, living with a woman is a net energy drain.
      Women are some very high maintenance creatures. Men eat simply, clean quickly, and have more fun. Women take much longer to do the same task. Every married man has friends, who have wives who just spend way, way too much money. How many women sew any more? How many women know how to upholster furniture? How many women know how to change a tire? How many women know how to use tools? How many women know how to do simple carpentry? How many women are careful with their money? How many women worked very hard in school, so they can make up for the educational deficit so their kids learn all they need to? How many women even know how to run a household? How many women know how to use firearms? How many women don’t get completely discombobulated at the site of blood, even in tiny amounts? How many women know how to make a butterfly bandage? How many women are very creative, and guide their children through the extras, like music, that round them out and make them more intelligent?My mother was all of the above, and more. Modern women know how to apply cosmetics, and spend money, and eat fast food. Modern women are the equivalent of ancient princesses, who had to have a crew of slaves, to survive. Part of the graduation requirements from high school, for men AND women, should be a week in a full survival situation, in the woods, with no more than two tools.

  6. It was quite amusing to see Oprah doing shows for women. Where was her husband? Oh, she never had one. She may have been lesbian. She did have Steadman Graham. How interested was he, in being Mr. Winfree? Not very. He was successful in his own right.
    Let’s see. Hmm. Britney. How well has she kept her married relationships together? How many really successful marriages where the wife earns a lot more than the husband are there? Not many.

    Women say they like nice guys. But so many prefer bad boys. They think they can tame the bad boy. If they succeed, then they lose interest, because he’s not a bad boy any more. Women are hypergamous, they want a man who earns more, is stronger, that they can lean on. All this talk of college-educated women missing out on marrying men in the trades, it sounds great. How many women are doing this? Not many. How many want to do this? Very few. They’ll play with bad boys, but for husbands, they want very successful men.

    And the funniest part of it, is that as feminists demand that more and more women get the top jobs, there are fewer and fewer men in those top jobs. It’s as if women really, really liked trees, even as feminist loggers were cutting down trees as fast as they could. Men know that without a good job, they have no value to women. How many househusbands are there? A few, which the media talk about, with thinly concealed contempt. I wonder how many internal inconsistencies can feminists create, and survive with.

  7. There are breadwinner moms who are very happy. I know some. They are in Mennonite communities, where the women all support each other. The older women train the younger women, they may do some child care, they all help each other, in the women’s subculture. Camille Paglia talks about her mother, as part of a very similar kind of supportive culture. Women support women in these healthy communities. Oh, wait. This is how women did things, for like, millennia. Only recently has society chosen to make people try to raise families, without community support.

    My mother was a teacher, for many years. They were told in a training, that when that generation was young, there were four legs to the chair of education- family, community, church, and school. Each reinforced the other. Family has been reduced, at best, to a nuclear family, sometimes a single parent family. Community has largely died out, as Cornel West’s book The War on the Family points out. Churches are not what they were. Which leaves a schoolteacher dealing with 150 students, to somehow make up for this shortcoming?

    And feminists say, “Men should just….”. Men already are stressed out. Jobs are not what they were. And they are more expendable than women, now. No, men aren’t going to just…. They are going to say, “F… you, feminists!” to these unreasonable demands. Feminists raise some extremely dysfunctional children. Dysfunction tends to wipe itself out, after a very few generations.

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