The Pew Research Center reports that mom is the top breadwinner — or the sole breadwinner — in 40 percent of homes with children under 18, and we are talking, again, about how we balance our work and our families.
It makes sense. Work and family are the central issues of our lives. It is no wonder that we keep rethinking how to get it right. The Pew report suggests that we are not sure we have.
In addition to the facts about who is bringing home the bacon (37 percent are married mothers who have higher incomes than their partners, but 63 percent are single moms), the report says that 74 percent of those asked think it is harder to raise the kids right if mom is working. And half said it makes it harder on marriages, too.
But two-thirds said that a working mom makes it easier for families to live comfortably. Clearly we understand the economic benefits. We just aren't comfortable with what we perceive to be the emotional price.
The report also revived a couple of other debates: Do we need dads? And is there a pay gap between men and women doing the same job?
Let's put the first one to rest quickly. Children do better with involved fathers. Period. Whether they are the breadwinner or not.
Boys are more likely to stay out of trouble, girls are less likely to get pregnant as teens and both are more likely to do well at school. And that's just for starters.
Much has been written about women choosing to have children without husbands because there are fewer men worth marrying, but there is no disputing the value of an involved father.
And if, in fact, so many more children depend on mom's earnings, then the pay gap — which has been stuck at about 20 percent to 23 percent for 30 years — becomes an unfair handicap for families that only have mom's income.
The pay gap is disputed by some who call it a function of a woman's choices, not of workplace discrimination — she is more likely to drop in and out of the workforce or make different job or career choices for the sake of the kids.
But that does not explain the gender pay gap that exists right out of college. A study by the American Association of University Women found that the gap for them is already 7 percent, even when controlling for all sort of variables. And this difference compounds over a woman's working life until it reaches an astonishing 24 percent for full-time workers ages 45 to 54. Just when a woman is saving for retirement or sending her own children to college.
There is clear unfairness here, but there are 8.5 million single mothers, the vast majority of whom can't opt out of the work force to focus on the kids. Or dial it back to reduce tension in the relationship because her median family income is just $23,000. She is more likely to be young, black or Hispanic and less likely to have a college degree.
In contrast, median family income for the 5.1 million breadwinning moms who earn more than their husbands is $80,000. She is likely to be older, white and college educated. Imagine her choices.
The picture of working motherhood drawn in this Pew report leaves me flinching with self-consciousness at all the hand-wringing we do about work/life balance. What a luxury.
Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.