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.

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  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.

    • Yes, men should just… stay the heck away from all these poisonous women, who are always demanding more, never satisfied, drain energy like a high energy pump, refuse to see anything positive in men. Go MGTOW today, keep the feminists away

  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.

  8. I would suggest that the next generation of women is about to be much less happy than their mothers- because a choice was made to widely damage the education of their peer boys. There was a choice made to drug a great number of boys – who would have been just fine with a little exercise. There was a choice made to ensure that boys (and girls) lacked male role models – and there was a choice made to ensure that men would not believe that they would be secure in marriage, and one way to make yourself safer- is to ensure that it is her income that is the primary – so she cannot expect to profit by disposing of you, and that you have options if she does.

    I would suggest that there is also a simple question to be asked- why should men want to be the primary breadwinner now? What is their reward – if they work 50 hours -to come home and be nagged? To be tossed on the trash heap? I would suggest that the message has been sent, it is not up to men today to fix anything, because it was a CHOICE to hurt boys and advance girls, and today it is girls that were handed the advantage for employment, because education was focused on them, and that boys were not important has been made abundantly clear. If this was not so – Ritalin would not have been handed out like candy, and books for boys, and male role models would have been priorities- not things to remove.

    I have noticed that a lot more young women are seeing feminism as a problem, I have also started to notice that they are starting to understand the issues of the education of boys – the question must be asked – who will they blame for their issues? I suspect it will not be the boys they know were drugged, and they will not blame the loss of trust on those who were treated as disposable (or if they do, they will merely dig the hole deeper). I suspect there is a growing understanding that going quiet does not answer the harm of feminism. I hope they understand that stopping the blame hate of men does not reverse the damage already done.

    I would ask – why should young men trust – when they see a man abused is also the one arrested? Why should they trust, when there is no great outcry to fix the family courts? When there is no great outcry to create safe spaces for men and boys to bond? When there is no push from women to create these spaces – when they know perfectly well how they were destroyed? When there is still endless pressure to end all men’s clubs – but women’s clubs are just fine? When a woman walking into a boys locker room is seen as ok by other women, even when the boys are 12, 13, 14?

    I would ask – why should men step up, or even entertain trusting when there is no evidence that there is a real concern at all? I would ask – while Osbourne still does not suffer judgement – and it is still seen as funny for women to hurt men and boys – why would they believe that the women of that society care? When the notion of the death of a man – can be seen to make a woman the “primary victim” why should they believe ? When “bring back our girls” (M. Obama – reaction to Boko Haram) can be popular in a society – where it means you ignored more than 40 times the number of boys – why would young men think that there is any care at all?

    • Gosh, could that have anything to do with the 400% suicide rate for men, over women.
      People get smarter, as they get older. Which is why, as men and women get beyond 35 or so, men lose interest in marriage, and women desire, more and more, to be married. Marriage and dealing with women is largely a loser’s game, for men, and getting worse, in the USA.

  9. America’s Loneliness Epidemic: A Risk to Individuals and Organizations – it goes beyond just male/female relationships

    The demands of work and screen time have crowded out meaningful relationships. It’s hurting people and the workplace. And families. Much has been written about America’s loneliness epidemic, including in the workplace. But the word “loneliness” in the work context is a misnomer. It doesn’t capture the whole story. What about all the individuals who might not think of themselves as lonely and yet the demands of work and task-oriented activities such as time in front of screens have crowded out time for anything more than superficial relationships? Many people lack sufficient, positive human connection (or social connection) and may be unaware of the ramifications. Left unchecked, the deficiency of connection today presents widespread risks not just to individuals but to organizations.

    From a biological standpoint, social connection is a primal human need. Its presence appears to improve the cardiovascular, endocrine and immune systems’ performance. In contrast, studies have shown that “disconnection” is unhealthy for individuals:
    •Loneliness is associated with poorer cognitive performance, including poorer executive function and social cognition.
    •Loneliness may impair executive control and self-regulation, including with respect to greater smoking and alcohol consumption.
    •Social disconnectedness is related to lower levels of self-rated physical health.
    •Loneliness is associated with substance abuse, depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation.

    Given these findings, it follows that researchers found greater employee loneliness leads to poorer task, team role and relational performance. One might assume that the higher up the organization you go, the more connected you feel, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Research reported in Harvard Business Review found that half of CEOs report feeling lonely and 61 percent of them believed it hindered their performance.

    Prevalence of Social Disconnection

    A considerable amount of evidence suggests that social disconnection is prevalent today. Based on its research findings, CIGNA reported data in 2018 that chronic loneliness in America has reached epidemic levels. This is consistent with an earlier analysis on the potential public health relevance of social isolation and loneliness.

    Looking forward, it would appear that over the next decade the workforce may become even more disconnected. Since 2011, research on adolescents has found they spend more time interacting with electronic devices and less time interacting with each other, while also experiencing declining well-being. As artificial intelligence further increases the presence and role of machines in people’s day-to-day lives, an unintended consequence is that it may diminish people’s ability to connect.

    The Role of Chronic Stress

    Why is social disconnection problematic in the workplace? In answering this question one ought to address the topic of stress. While it is a term we often hear, it is difficult to fully comprehend the far-reaching psychological and physiological consequences associated with stress.

    In measured amounts, stress serves to ready the nervous system for the task at hand. Here, odd as it sounds, stress can be a good thing. However, as Ted George, MD, of the National Institutes of Health describes in his book Untangling the Mind, stress can have negative effects. With increasing levels of stress, the nervous system processes the stress as a threat; and in extreme circumstances, stress moves the individual from being guided by rational thought processes to the instinctual responses characterized as “fight,” “flight” and “shutdown.”

    When people experience chronic stress, they don’t feel well and often resort to ingesting substances or engaging in behaviors that provide temporary relief. The danger is that this may lead to developing addiction. In a review of 83 studies on addiction with at least 500 subjects, Sussman et al. (2011) found that nearly half the adult U.S. population suffers from one or more addictions that have “serious negative consequences.” The addictions studied included substance addictions (alcohol, eating disorders, mood-altering legal and illegal drugs, and tobacco) and process addictions (dependence upon busyness and work, exercise, gambling, online gaming or social media, shopping, love and sex).

    One of the best-known means to cope with stress is to increase positive social connections. Being in an environment that fosters supportive relationships and human connection serves to stabilize the responses of the nervous system, preventing it from processing the stressor as a threat.

    Cultures of Connection

    UCLA neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman describes social connection as a “superpower” that makes individuals smarter, happier and more productive. Leaders at all levels of an organization would be wise to assess workplace culture through the lens of connection. Are attitudes, uses of language and behaviors drawing people together and connecting them? Or are they creating a stressful and/or relationally-toxic environment that pushes people apart?

    In our research we found that cultures of connection are best for individual well-being and for helping organizations thrive too. Specifically, cultures of connection convey several performance advantages upon organizations including higher employee engagement, tighter strategic alignment, superior decision-making, greater innovation and more adaptability to cope with rapid change taking place in the world today. These advantages add up to a powerful competitive advantage.

    World’s Best Hospital Has Connection in its DNA

    The power of connection is on full display at Mayo Clinic, America’s top-ranked hospital and arguably the best hospital in the world. From the time of its founding in 1889, Mayo Clinic has been intentional about cultivating connection and community. Dr. Charlie Mayo, one of the earliest leaders, communicated an attitude that valued connection and warned about the dangers of isolation when he stated: “Our failures as a profession are the failures of individualism, the result of competitive medicine. It must be done by collective effort.”

    One of the ways this is manifest is in Mayo Clinic’s practice of compensating physicians through paying a salary rather than by an activity-based system. Not only does this promote collaboration for the good of the patient but it also alleviates the financial and time pressure of trying to see too many patients in a day, which often serves to diminish the physician-patient connection.

    Mayo Clinic’s stated mission and values point to being guided by the intent of its founders, the original Mayo physicians and Sisters of St. Francis. Mayo Clinic’s mission is “To inspire hope and contribute to health and well-being by providing the best care to every patient through integrated clinical practice, education and research” (italics mine). The language used to describe its values includes the following:
    •“Compassion … [that treats] patients and family members with sensitivity and empathy,”
    •“Healing [that nurtures] the well-being of the whole person, respecting physical, emotional and spiritual needs,”
    •“Teamwork [that values] the contributions of all, blending the skills of individual staff members in unsurpassed collaboration,”
    •“Innovation [that infuses and energizes] the organization, enhancing the lives of those we serve, through the creative ideas and unique talents of each employee,” and
    •“Excellence [that delivers] the best outcomes and highest quality service through the dedicated effort of every team member.”

  10. Notice that words and phrases that reflect and enhance connection are woven throughout: sensitivity, empathy, treating the whole person (including emotional and spiritual needs), teamwork, blending skills of the team, unsurpassed collaboration, each employee and every team member.

    Mayo Clinic’s belief in the importance of connection goes beyond attitudes and language to practical steps taken to see that connection is infused in the culture. Mayo Clinic’s onboarding process for physicians and scientists includes extensive training in professionalism and communications, and assessments to help them develop emotional intelligence which is instrumental to connecting with others. Physician leaders are selected, developed and assessed based on their ability to connect, which includes listening, engaging, developing and leading other physicians. Informal opportunities for connection among colleagues is encouraged by providing dedicated meeting areas for physicians to gather in.

    Mayo Clinic’s intentionality and commitment is evident in a program called COMPASS (COlleagues Meeting to Promote and Sustain Satisfaction). Under this initiative, self-formed groups of 6-10 physicians get together for about an hour every other week, usually over breakfast or lunch, with up to $20 provided to each participant to cover the meal cost. During the meal, physicians spend at least 15 minutes focused on discussing assigned issues related to the physician experience, such as resiliency, medical mistakes, work-life balance and meaning at work. Mayo Clinic’s research has found that participants in COMPASS experience statistically significant improvements in multiple domains of wellbeing and satisfaction that will help reduce the risk of physician burnout and reduce medical errors.

    What Leaders Can Do

    Every organization would be wise to develop a culture of connection. Consider the U.S. Navy when Admiral Vernon Clark was Chief of Naval Operations, the connection culture of Costco, which Forbes and Statista research has consistently recognized as among the best large company employers in America, or the connection culture Alan Mually cultivated when he led the turnaround of Ford Motor Company.

    Disconnection is everywhere in our culture

    Our current epidemic of social disconnection has arisen from multiple avenues including loneliness, social isolation, and the busyness and increased screen time of modern life crowding out time for face-to-face human connection. Social disconnection is making people more vulnerable to the negative effects of stress. After one considers the prevalence and effects of social disconnection throughout an organization, it can be argued that social disconnection presents a systemic risk.

    Connection matters. Organizations should be intentional about developing and sustaining cultures of connection that provide the structures and needed psychosocial support to foster inclusion and teamwork, minimize stress and reduce error— all of which will promote superior organizational outcomes. The net benefit amounts to better employee and organizational health, resilience and performance.

    Connection starts in the family.

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