Household earnings: Local women contribute to 'Primary Breadwinner' statistic

PHOTO BY KATIE BINION Jane Page Thompson is a local realtor and land consultant. Thompson is married to Mark.

For Jane Page Thompson, when it comes to providing for the home, gender does not matter.

Thompson is married to Mark, a local horseback rider and trainer, and finds herself as the primary provider for her household.

Thompson's situation is one that is becoming more and more common; she is one of a growing number of women whose earnings outpace that of their husbands.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 28 percent of women earn more than their husbands, according to 2011 data, up from 19 percent in 1990.

In addition, a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center shows a “record 40 percent of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.”

That number has steadily increased since 1960 when only 11 percent of women were either the sole or primary source of income.

Research also shows the rise of female breadwinners is being driven mostly by demographic changes, including higher rates of education and labor force participation. Today, more women than men hold bachelor's degrees, and women make up nearly half of the workforce.

Changes in the economy have contributed to the outcome, too. There have been big losses in manufacturing and construction, fields that traditionally employed a mostly male workforce.

The Thompsons do not have any children; however, due to some unforeseen circumstances that occurred within the first few years of their marriage, Thompson took over the financial responsibilities for their household.

“Within the first five years of our marriage, he had a heart attack, a terrible horse accident and then brain surgery,” said Thompson. “Medically, more than anything, required him to take a big step back from work.”

According to Thompson, it does not matter who earns more because both parties bring unique abilities to the union.

“There are some things he just naturally does better than I do,” said Thompson. “My husband is much better at doing the laundry than I am.”

Thompson adds that her career as a Realtor and land consultant provides her with a much-needed knowledge regarding the cost of maintaining a home.

“Being in real estate, I have a really good perspective of the value of domestic work,” said Thompson. “In my profession, I know the dollar amount that cleaning the house and cleaning the yard has.”

Thompson credits her studies at a single-sex boarding school and college to the way she views financial responsibilities.

“I was educated to be a female who could take care of herself,” said Thompson. “My education was fiercely devoted to making me be an independent, contributing person to society other than being a mother and a wife.”

Being the primary provider for the family has its difficulties, according to Thompson.

“It is a lot more stressful,” said Thompson. “I always feel like I am letting him down if something goes wrong. I am in a business that is commission based, so it adds a lot more stress when you are trying to set a family budget.”

Having a positive role model to look up to while growing up helped set a foundation in Thompson's life.

“My role model was my mom,” said Thompson. “My mother was a single mom and she went to law school. She had this very fierce independence and did not settle for the 'I don't know.' You go research and find the answer.”

The two overall contributing factors in Thompson's life were her mother and her education. The two sources helped breed independence in her life.

According to Thompson, “Whether you are a male or a female, I think being the responsible party of other people's lives in a household or having obligations to live up to is difficult.”

The rise of female breadwinners bucks gender stereotypes and expected gender roles, according to Dr. Laura May, associate professor of psychology at USC Aiken.

“It is customary for the husband to be the primary breadwinner,” said May.

According to May, “it may come down to the individual couple. As long as both partners in the couple are fine with this, then there are no relational issues.”

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that the “public remains of two minds about the gains mothers have made in the workplace – most recognize the clear economic benefits to families, but many voice concerns about the toll that having a working mother may take on children or even marriage. About three-quarters of adults say the increasing number of women working for pay has made it harder for parents to raise children, and half say that it has made marriages harder to succeed. At the same time, two-thirds say it has made it easier for families to live comfortably,” according to the center's website.

Gail Diggs, a native of Aiken, is a single mother of two daughters, Brittany and Simone. Diggs was married for 20 years when she and her husband filed for a divorce.

“You expect for a marriage to last forever and it just does not always go that way,” said Diggs.

Like Thompson, Diggs' role model was also her mother. Diggs' father was killed when she was young, which left her mother to care for the children alone.

“I watched my mom do it with six of us,” said Diggs. “My mom was determined that even though there were six of us, she was not going to give up. She was going to take care of us.”

Watching her mother work no matter what taught Diggs an invaluable lesson.

“What I saw in my mom made a great impact on me,” said Diggs. “She had the best work ethic. She worked as long as she could. She worked when she was sick and she worked when she was well, but she just believed that you should always get up and go to work.”

Through the trying times, Diggs relied on a few things.

“Through it all, remembering how my mom did it and knowing if she could do it with six, I could do it with two,” said Diggs.

The other comforting support came from three F's.

“I relied on three things: my faith, my family and my friends.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of working mothers say juggling work and family life is difficult for them.

Diggs found a way to try and balance work and home.

“My girls were very involved in so many extra-curricular activities when they were in school. For me to make sure that I was always there was important because I was the only parent,” said Diggs. “Even if I could not stay for her practice, I would drop her off and I may go do a presentation somewhere else but I would go back to get her and I would usually catch the tail-end of practice.”

If one person is the sole provider and caregiver to his or her children, Diggs believes it is “very important to be there for your kids.”