Trade-Offs When Mom’s the Primary Breadwinner

By John Edwards of the Wall Street Journal’s The Juggle Blog:

The Mr. Mom scenario: much less unusual since the movie’s 1983 release.

With nearly a third of American households having a sole or primary female breadwinner, the issues those families face are far from a niche matter. But how do the women, in particular, feel about occupying what’s still seen as an unusual role?

A recent study from the University of Missouri tries to answer that question. Rebecca Meisenbach, an assistant professor of communication, conducted close interviews and follow-ups with 15 women who were their families’ main earners and published her findings in the journal Sex Roles. Ms. Meisenbach identified six common elements, positive and negative, in the women’s experiences: “having control; valuing independence; feeling pressure and worry; valuing partner’s contributions; feeling guilt and resentment; and valuing career progress.”

The broad societal expectation that men are primary breadwinners and that women attend to the home sphere—even when they work outside the home—is where many of the negative feelings come in, Ms. Meisenbach found. Says a university release about her research: “These societal expectations and gender norms can leave the female breadwinner with feelings of worry, pressure, guilt and resentment…. For example, female breadwinners experience moments of guilt about care giving, pressure to perform at work and for their families, and occasional resentment at the demands of their multiple and atypical roles.”

On the brighter side, says the release: “The negative effects for female breadwinners are balanced with opportunities for control, independence and ambition. The study found that while some of the women did not want the control, they all did enjoy a sense of independence based on being the main source of income in a family. Most of these women also identify themselves as having strong ambition regarding career success and goal achievement.”

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Filed under Articles, Assumptions about Mothers, Family Work, Fatherhood, Workplace and Employment

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