Mar 26, 2013 1:28 PM by Dennis Cauchon

Record number of women now family breadwinners

She's a soldier. He's a stay-at-home dad. She works at a booming software company. He's starting a graphic-design business. She's a business executive and electrical engineer. He's quit many jobs to move for her career advancements.

A USA Today analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data reveals a revolution in the traditional roles of men and women that extends from college campuses to the workplace to neighborhoods across this nation.

Today, when one spouse works full time and the other stays home, it's the wife who is the sole breadwinner in a record 23 percent of families, the analysis finds. When the census started tracking this in 1976, the number was 6 percent.

Just as telling, wives outearn their husbands 28 percent of the time when both work, up from 16 percent 25 years ago. This means the wife is bringing home the bacon - or at least more bacon than her husband - in more than 12 million American families.

What does this mean in everyday life, not just in the executive suite? To find out, USA Today interviewed a dozen female breadwinners and many of their spouses about the role reversal - and how it's working. Several themes emerged:

Education. In nearly every case, the woman is better educated than the man. The wife and husband don't generally consider one smarter than the other. But the men often prefer doing things with their hands or outdoors, while the women excel in school and working at a desk.

Parenting. The role reversal has freed moms who prefer to work and dads who like to nurture. "Patience" - when Dad has it naturally and Mom doesn't - is the attribute both men and women cite for flipping traditional roles.

Health insurance. Who has it? Professional women generally have this precious commodity. Blue-collar men often don't. When kids arrive, the couple's decision is often a matter of familial responsibility.

Influence of others

The college gap is driving startling changes in financial equations between women and men. Women earned 57 percent of bachelor's degrees, 60 percent of master's degrees and 52 percent of doctoral degrees in 2010, the Education Department reports.

Tiffany Townsend, 36, of Nashville, is a college-educated fundraiser. Her husband, Todd, 40, is a carpenter. They discussed having a second child. Financially, it would make sense for her husband to stay home rather than to use day care.

"I'm kind of wistful, wishing I had that option," Townsend says. "I even worry how others would judge me. Women who work are sometimes perceived as sacrificing family for career."

In most cases, the typical higher-earning working woman interviewed by USA Today came from households in which her mother was a role model, working long and difficult hours outside the home.

Jill Kennel, 51, of Gresham, Ore., was raised on a Virginia farm. Mom worked in a grocery while Dad farmed. So, it didn't seem radical when she became the family's sole breadwinner after her husband lost his landscape-irrigation job during the economic downturn and his unemployment benefits ran out in 2011.

She's a software trainer and teaches part time at community colleges. Her husband, Donald, 55, does the laundry and keeps house. Their children, a son and a daughter, are 17 and 20.

"He makes a wonderful househusband. If I had to sit at home, I'd go nuts," she says.

Donald Kennel is finishing his associate's degree, made affordable by the tuition benefits from his wife's teaching job. He hopes to start on a four-year college degree in the fall and become a civil engineer.

An issue of money

As a girl, Army Capt. Kaththea Stagg was told that she was too independent and that homemaker was the proper role for a Southern girl. She would have none of that. She enlisted in the Army to rebel against her dad, then found that she loved the military.

After serving her enlistment obligation, Stagg went back to college and rejoined the Army as an officer. She met her future husband during her last year at college. He was a master electrician from Massachusetts working at a Veterans Affairs hospital.

She told him she didn't want to have children alone and needed a stay-at-home dad. "I could do that," he said.

"So, I asked him to marry me," Stagg recalls.

Kaththea Stagg and Tom Dunham, both now 33, were married in March 2008. He cares for their two sons, ages 2 and 4. She's in language school studying Korean at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

"From a numbers point of view," he says, "her career is hands down better than mine financially."

On Army posts, Tom Dunham is often the only stay-at-home dad around.

"The Army moms treat me like an outcast. They don't know what to think about a guy in their group," Dunham says. He hangs around with enlisted guys, instead.

Dunham doesn't miss his electrician's job. It paid well but was brutal on his body, didn't provide health insurance, required working many holidays and was an unstable source of employment.

Concerns for health

Sarah and Dennis Buchanan got laid off from a small-town newspaper in North Carolina several years ago. She was an editor. He was chief photographer.

A year ago, she got a job at a fast-growing software company that pays twice what she made at the newspaper.

Her success allowed her husband to start a graphic-design firm - and to avoid returning to an old career as a long-haul truck driver.

"This is the first job I've had that I would consider a career," says Sarah Buchanan, 28. "It feels like a grown-up job."

Dennis Buchanan, 44, is thrilled by her success: "Her cubicle lifestyle has allowed me to push the envelope, to take chances I couldn't normally do."

He still has his commercial driver's license. "I could get on the phone and have a job this afternoon," he says.

But that grueling life - 21 days on the road, 10 days off - is a single man's game, he says. Instead, with a camera and a laptop, he is inventing a business selling full-color, two-sided business cards.

She has a college education; he doesn't. Her corporate job has health insurance, a crucial benefit because she is a type 1 diabetic. The couple's next challenge: When they have a child, both want to stay home.

Family comes first

Sherrie Daseler, 49, is an electrical engineer and plant quality manager at a large medical instrument manufacturer.

She has transferred locations seven times as her career advanced. She travels extensively, sometimes overseas, for her job in Holdrege, Neb.

Her husband, Jim, 51, has been a great stay-at-home dad. But the traditional "housewife" role has been a life's disappointment for him.

"I'm kind of expected to have meals made and laundry done. I'm doing it, but it's not what I was hoping for in life," he says.

The path they've taken makes total financial sense. Unlike his wife, Jim doesn't have a college education.

The couple treat the money she earns communally.


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