Women as Breadwinners?<br />
Nothing New for Black Folks

Bringing home the turkey bacon, frying it up in the pan...just like her mom used to do. 

A recent ​Time headline proclaimed that women were "The Richer Sex,” set to overtake men in a generation as financial breadwinners.   The story indicates that over the course of the next 25 years more American families will be supported by women instead of by men.  While that shift is making headlines in the mainstream the woman as breadwinner and head of household just might be old hat for Black women.

That may be in part because a higher percentage of African American women are achieving college degrees. This could mean that over the next generation the overall shift in female run households, already felt in many Black households could be even more dramatic in our homes over the next generation.

Particularly in the aftermath of the economic crisis that has also contributed to this shift, Black women are the financial lifeblood for families.  The Time piece focused on the next generation being dominated by female-lead households and yet this is nothing new for our community. So what are the social and political ramifications are for Black women as we continue to excel and support ourselves and our families? The gender dynamics may be changing for everyone but iBlack women are somewhat on the outside of this shift, having already moved ahead.

Liza Mundy, author of the new book The Richer Sex, writes "[t]hink about what this portends. The primary role men have played… will be passed to women. The impact will be felt everywhere, from the classroom to the boardroom to the bedroom, in how men and women work, play, shop, vote, save and share and court and even love each other." With the GOP’s “War on Women” as the backdrop for this significant change in economic potential.

This conversation is also interesting in the immediate aftermath of the heated debate over contraception. Black women sometimes are forced to choose whether to focus on issues of gender or issues of race and the birth control fight was certainly one of those moments. 

Feministing editor Chloe Angyal says, “[The debate over the birth control pill] needs to be placed in a larger context of anxiety about changing gender roles, which is the natural product of increased opportunities for women.  It's about the level of independence and power that contraception has made possible for women.”  Angyal raises an important point:  within a generation women will be running households, and they are able to do that in part because of the autonomy over their reproduction birth control has given them. 

The Time piece also explains, “women could delay marriage and invest in education without worrying that an unplanned pregnancy would derail their pursuit of professional goals.” Mundy cites that currently 4 in 10 married women make more than their husbands.  This is at the same time that nearly 60% of college students and those working towards master’s degrees and higher are women.   “Assuming present trends continue, by the next generation, more families will be supported by women than by men. Not since women entered the workforce by the millions after World War II has America witnessed economic change on this scale. Some of this is driven by the dramatic rise in single-parent families, but it is increasingly true in two-earner families as well.”

Questions over how traditional parenting roles, household responsibilities, and financial burdens should be shared between two parents when the woman makes more money than her spouse is a question with no definitive answer.  Old school gender roles are so entrenched it’s becoming more difficult to navigate who should be responsible for what within a family since historic norms simply won’t matter anymore.  Black women who have been able to navigate this new frontier may be able to offer some guidance as we’ve been here first and other women are on track to follow suit very soon.

Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst and staff writer for The Loop 21. You can follow her on Twitter: @ZerlinaMaxwell