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News Flash: The Sky is Falling

*posted by Perrin Braun

A Fox television panel caused much outcry in the United States last week. This all-male panel discussed a newly released Pew Research report showing that in 40% of American households, the main breadwinner is female.

It is amazing to me to see how direct the connection is, in the minds of these men, between women becoming economically empowered and total destruction of the social fabric. These guys almost immediately get down to beating their chests for the superiority of ape life, declaring that the natural order of things is for males to dominate. Watch it for yourself.

Given how quickly “female breadwinners” gets turned into “working mothers” in this discussion (and all their children cast as starving orphans), I decided to take a quick look to see whether some of these women weren’t single women living alone.

Well, right off the bat, you find out that the majority of these female breadwinners are single moms.  So, if these would-be cavemen had their way, those women would stay home and . . . what?  Beg?  And their children really would  . . . starve?

And let’s not forget that women make up nearly half the US labor force and that they are more educated than the men.  I’m not thinking it would be a great thing for America’s economy if all the women suddenly went home and mopped floors instead.

Importantly, among married couples with children, homes where the woman makes more than the man are only 15% of the total.  And families like this average $80,000 a year in earnings, as compared to only $23,000 for single mother households.  So Tarzan still seems to be king of the jungle, if you ask me.

But maybe not for long.  Female breadwinners are growing sharply as a category whether married or not, whether mothers or not.  And. according to  the April 2013 US Census, only 48% of US households are led by a married heterosexual couple.  In the past ten years, this figure has fallen 5%, the only family category to decline.  (Mind you, this figure includes childless married couples–even older folks with children grown and gone like me and Jim.)

More women do live alone than men.  Single women are twice as likely to head households as are single men.  Importantly, marriage rates are down all around: unmarried straight couples increased by 40% during the last ten years, while same sex couple households nearly doubled.

The Pew study that caused all this furor also examined attitudes among the respondents. They found that 79% of Americans disagree with the suggestion that women should return to traditional roles.  However, there is general concern among men and women alike that the current situation for childcare is not good.  Three in four adults said that the trend toward working mothers had made it hard for parents to raise children.

But this doesn’t mean a return to George of the Jungle. Andrew Cherlin, the sociology professor speaking for the Pew study predicted that the trend would lead to more pressure to have policies like paid family leave and child care support for single moms, not back-to-the-cave-for-Jane changes.

Cherlin emphasized that the trends we are seeing now are past the point of reversal. He added: “Many of our workplaces and schools still follow a male-breadwinner model, assuming that the wives are at home to take care of child care needs. Until we realize that the breadwinner-homemaker marriage will never again be the norm, we won’t provide working parents with the support they need.”

So, looks like Lou Dobbs can be wistful for the return of The Naked Ape all he wants. The rest of America wants to find civilized arrangements for living.


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