Women as Breadwinners

October 16, 2009

One of my favorite episodes of the Brady Bunch is the one where Mike and Carol swap their traditional parenting roles. Mike spends an afternoon cooking with Marcia, Jan, and Cindy, while Carol runs baseball practice for Greg, Peter, and Bobby. Despite their best efforts, both fail spectacularly. Mike makes a mockery of himself in the kitchen, while Carol looks like a fish out of water on the baseball diamond. At the end of the day, Mike and Carol share a good laugh and come to the inescapable conclusion that they — and the family — are much better off when everyone does what they’re supposed to do.

The episode is hilariously funny and, like much of the show, awfully old-fashioned. The Brady Bunch, of course, is all about traditional gender roles. Mike is the breadwinner, Carol is the caregiver, the boys like sports, the girls like dolls, Alice likes to dust. Even Tiger lives in an old-fashioned doghouse. 

A Woman’s Nation is centered on the idea that America in 2009 looks a whole lot different than America in, say, the early 1970s. In the chapter entitled “New Breadwinners,” the report explores the new American economy, which for the first time contains a workforce evenly split along gender lines. Not only do women now make up 50 percent of the nation’s workforce, but working mothers are also now the primary or co-breadwinners in a majority of American families. Nevertheless, from the types of jobs women hold to how much (or how little) they are compensated, equity in the workplace has clearly not yet been achieved despite women’s new parity in the workplace. The starkest indicator of this fact is the pay gap — the average woman working full-time earns a mere 77 cents for every dollar earned by her male counterpart.

The bottom line is that families are depending on a woman’s earnings more than ever before in our nation’s history, and that means we need to do a whole lot more to ensure that “equal pay for equal work” becomes more than a slogan. AAUW recommends a number of legislative and policy ideas for this chapter that would advance the role of women in this new economy. From enacting the Paycheck Fairness Act, to advancing pay equity within the federal government, to encouraging women and girls to pursue careers in the high-paying STEM fields, we offer a number of proposals for lawmakers to consider. You can see our complete list of policy recommendations for this chapter here.

There’s another episode of the Brady Bunch where the kids want to cash in their large amount of trading stamps, but they can’t decide what to get. The girls want a sewing machine, and the boys want a rowboat. Neither side will budge, so Mike and Carol decide to settle the matter by having the girls face off against the boys in building a house of cards. The girls prevail, and ultimately, they decide to trade in the stamps for a new TV. The whole family is giddy. Even Tiger looks thrilled.

The moral of the story? When the girls win, we all do.

By:   |   October 16, 2009

1 Comment

  1. Veronica says:

    I think its great that women are being recognized as breadwinners. I grew up in a single family household, but even before my parents divorced, my mom worked was the primary bread-winner for the family. She faced many obstacles to get a management position, and in the end, she wasn’t made as well as her colleagues. Because more and more families are depending on the woman’s income, i hope women will soon be making equal to men so they don’t have to work more.

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