The Modern Working Mother

Long gone are the days when most women stayed at home to care for their children full-time as their husbands worked outside the home to provide for the family. While this family model still exists, it is no longer the norm. According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) Fact Sheet, “It is an undeniable fact of American life today that a large majority of women with children—married and single, with children of all ages from infants to teens—are working outside the home. Most of these mothers work full time or would like full-time work.”

The NWLC explains how income from working mothers is crucial to supporting their families. The Center goes on to state that 69.9 percent of American women with children under the age of 18, 74.4 percent of women with children ages 6 to 17, and 64.2 percent of women with children under the age of 6 are in the labor force. What’s more, 58.1 percent of women with infants under the age of one year also work.

Single mothers, not surprisingly, work even more than their married counterparts. A whopping 76.2 percent of single mothers with children under the age of 18 and 80.3 percent of single moms with children ages 6 to 17 participate in the labor force. And what of those single mothers with children under the age of 6? Well, 70.7 percent of them are in the labor force, reports the NWLC.

3 Facts About U.S. Moms from Pew Research Center

Motherhood has changed dramatically in America over the past 50 years. Today, more mothers hold college degrees than ever before, and the majority of women with a young child are working instead of being stay-at-home moms. There has also been a big shift among mothers who are breadwinners for their families, something that was practically unheard of in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 21st century, we now have more mothers who are their family’s sole or primary breadwinner than ever before.

Here are three facts about U.S. moms from Pew Research Center reports:

1. Women are having their first child later in life.

In 1994, the average age for women to become mothers in the United States was 23, but now it’s 26. While one reason for this shift is the lower rate of teen pregnancies, U.S. women in their 20s have continued to delay motherhood. In 1994, for example, 53 percent of women in their early 40s had their first babies by age 24, but now that number has fallen to 39 percent, according to Pew.

2. Roughly One-in-Four Mothers Are Single Moms

While 68 percent of U.S. mothers are married, about 25 percent of them are single mothers. According to research, about 9 million U.S. mothers who are living with a child under the age of 18 are living without a partner or spouse. In contrast, only 7 percent of fathers are raising a child without a partner or spouse living in their home.

3. More Highly Educated Women are Becoming Mothers

We have seen dramatic increases in motherhood among highly educated women. In 1994, 65 percent of women between the ages of 40 to 44 with a Ph.D. or a professional degree had become mothers, but by 2014, that number sharply rose to 80 percent.

“In 2014, Fashion Designer/Mogul, Rachel Zoe had five staff members in her company who were pregnant and due within the year. Her response? She built a nursery adjacent to the office, to retain her valued staff. She explained, ‘...I feel good sending the message to my team that they work for a company that supports and celebrates who they are in their personal lives and that we aren’t afraid to let those truths influence the culture in the office in order to make us more productive and happy on the whole,’” Mary Beth Ferrante, a senior contributor, wrote in Forbes.

The U.S. Workforce is Surging with Single Mothers

According to The New York Times, single mothers are surging in the American workforce, but that doesn’t mean they can’t face many employment barriers, such as affordable childcare and predictable work schedules.

“Yet since 2015, something surprising has happened,” according to The Times. “The share of young single mothers in the workforce has climbed about four percentage points, driven by those without college degrees, according to a New York Times analysis of Current Population Survey data. It’s a striking rise even compared with other groups of women who have increased their labor force participation during this period of very low unemployment.”

The last time we saw single mothers in the workforce grow so rapidly was in the 1990s, ignited by federal policy changes, including tax incentives, a welfare overhaul, and a thriving economy. However, in recent years, we have not experienced any federal policy changes that would encourage large numbers of single mothers to join the labor force. At the federal level, single mothers do not have a reliable safety net, so for most, working for pay is increasingly the most practical option on the table. On the local level, minimum wage increases and paid leave have made it easier for single mothers to join the labor force.

“Many safety net programs have been eviscerated, and work requirements have increased,” said Carol Burnett, executive director of the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative, a nonprofit that supports working mothers. If more single mothers are working, she said, it’s for a simple reason: “They need the money.”