Is the recession changing breadwinner roles permanently?

We’ve explored how the Great Recession has changed the dynamic in many households. MPR’s Rupa Shenoy had a terrific piece this week on how more women than ever are the primary breadwinners, especially in Minnesota.

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But here’s the question: Is this a permanent shift? Will the changes that families are having to make last beyond the recession?

We started wondering that as we read through responses from Minnesotans in MPR’s Public Insight Network. (If you haven’t shared your story yet, please drop us a line.)

Some saw the shifts as temporary, a way to survive the recession. Others saw it lasting awhile as their spouse returns to school or changes careers.

“Nearly every woman I know (friend and family) is currently making more money than her husband / significant other, or is more educated,” Lindsey Jackson, a Network source and health educator from Lindstrom wrote us.

Some viewed it as a permanent and necessary change.

“We could not function at our current standard of living if my wife did not continue to work. She has surpassed my highest wage ever and enjoys her work,” said Shawn Hanna of Minneapolis.

My retirement income is now approx. 1/3 of our household income and hers is the other 2/3. This is a long-term change and we should be able to continue with this arrangement for another 5+ years until she retires.

Seeing my wife excel in her field has been wonderful experience. Far from feeling less of a man when she surpassed me, I felt fulfilled. She suffered financially as a low paid teacher and now still teaches (in a way) and is compensated accordingly higher. I simply take the gender out of my thinking.

Much of the current circumstance is driven by the deep losses in male dominated industries, especially manufacturing, the hardest hit sector in Minnesota. That created a “he-cession” but new research indicates the gap has closed in Minnesota.

Bao Vang, a leadership program coordinator from St. Paul, told us about the shifts in her family economy.

“It’s been tough being the sole breadwinner…What was a temporary arrangement is now a long term change. I only buy things for the kids (such as clothes) and not buy things for me or their dad, unless it is absolutely necessary. Our family was actually able to weather the economic downturn since we have been living off one income for the past three years, but it puts tremendous pressure of me to not lose my job.”

Click on the map icons below to read what others told us about their situations.

For some, the need to bring in an income runs deeper than economics.

“I have always made more money and carried the health insurance benefits,” said Sheri Lechner, a clinic directory from Savage.

“My dad died when I was 15 and my mom could barely get by to support 3 daughters. She had only a high school education (same as my dad) but he had always made more money and had the job with benefits,” she wrote us. “I always knew I did not want to depend on anyone else to support me.”

Tell us your story about the changing economic roles in your home.

  • Margaret Thomas

    The economic recession has accelerated and sharpened the focus on family earnings dynamics that already were in motion. It’s our conceptions of the workplace and women’s participation in paid work, particularly after children enter a family, that remain in a by-gone era.

    It’s about time workplace structures and practices start catching up to how men and women both face a combination of earning and family care responsibilities, whether those entail children, elders, or ailing family members. Work + life flexibility is not only an issue facing women.