Breadwinner model

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"Breadwinner" redirects here. For other uses, see Breadwinner (disambiguation).

The breadwinner model is a paradigm of family centered on a breadwinner, "the member of a family who earns the money to support the others".[1] The breadwinner is usually a heterosexual male, as the model is based on patriarchical norms, with the male working outside the home to provide the family with income and benefits such as health insurance. The female usually stays at home and takes care of children and the elderly. However, since the 1950s, social scientists as well as feminists have increasingly criticized gendered arrangements of work and care, and the male breadwinner role, and policies are increasingly targeting men as fathers, as a tool of changing gender relations.[2] In 2014 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 30.8% of heterosexual couples with children under 18 had men as the sole bread winner. 5.6% of families had women as the sole breadwinner. The percentage of families with female breadwinners has been declining since the end of the recession. 86% of mothers and only 24% of fathers decided to stay out of the workforce to support their family.[3]

Problems Associated With The Breadwinner model[edit]

There have been many problems associated with the breadwinner model. One of which is that 'male breadwinner regimes make women dependent within marriage cohabitation especially when they have young children'.[4] As women have increasingly entered the workforce across more economically developed states there has been a decline in the breadwinner model. However, in the less economically developed areas of the world where there is less female labour market involvement, the breadwinner regime is more relevant. In these particular areas it is not uncommon for women to have broken career paths, often undergoing unpaid work or working part-time. Because of these issues, women are exposed to much lower levels of life time earning than men.[4] This income disparity between men and women can often lead to an increase in female insecurity and poverty if the relationship were to fail. Another risk that has been identified with this has been a higher exposure to domestic violence, which has been associated with the females lack of independent resources.[4]

Decline of the Male Breadwinner[edit]

In 2013 the UK female employment rate reached 67.2 per cent, the highest since the Office for National Statistics’ records began.[5] As women's growing presence in the professional world has risen, as well as increasing employment rates and support for gender equality, the male-female relations in the home have been reproduced and changed, especially the breadwinner paradigm.[6] The breadwinner model was most prevalent during the 20 year period straight after World War II. During this time the economy relied heavily on men to financially support the family and to provide the main source of income, typically women stayed at home looking after the children and undergoing domestic work. ‘Women’s support for gender specialisation in marriage began to decline rapidly from the late 1970s through to the mid 1980s, this was followed by an interval of stability until the mid 1990s’.[7] ‘As increasing proportions of women entered the paid labour market during the latter decades of the 20th century, the family model of a male breadwinner and female homemaker came under significant challenge both as a practice and an ideology’.[8]

"There is now agreement in most literature that the breadwinner model, in which men take primary responsibility for earning and women for the unpaid work of care, has been substantially eroded".[8][9]

'Nordic countries are an excellent example of a dual-breadwinner model, with high employment rates among men and women, and a very small difference between men's and women's hours of work. With the exception of Denmark, research by the World Economic Forum has shown that all Nordic countries have closed over 80 percent of the gender gap, making them a useful example of the dual breadwinner.[10]

Breadwinner Moms[edit]

The female breadwinner model, otherwise known as ‘Breadwinner Moms’,[11] takes place when the female provides the main source of income for the family. Recent data from the US Census stated that '40% 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'. 37% [12] of these 'Breadwinner Moms' [11] are married mothers who have a higher income than their husbands, and 63% [12] are single mothers. This research illustrates the recent changes in the dynamics of the breadwinner model, changing from male orientated to female.

Issues With The Decline Of The Breadwinner model[edit]

Although there have been problems identified with the breadwinner model, there have also been issues noted in its decline. The decline of the breadwinner model has been accompanied by an erosion of various dimensions - sexual division of labour, the economic support of family members, and the 'distribution of time and regulation of marriage and parenthood'.[13] With two parents in the workforce, there is a risk that a job could undermine family life, consequently leading to relationship breakdown or adversely affecting original family formation.

A recent study has found that 'women’s gains on the economic front may be contributing to a decline in the formation and stability of marriages'. Although one reason for this may be that women with greater earning and economic security have more freedom to leave bad marriages, another possibility could be that men are more hesitant to this change in social norms.[14]


  • Crompton, Rosemary (1999). Restructuring gender relations and employment: the decline of the male breadwinner. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198296089. 
Book review: Fagan, Colette (March 2001). "Restructuring gender relations and employment: the decline of the male breadwinner (review)". Work, Employment & Society (Cambridge Journals) 15 (1): 195–212. doi:10.1017/S0950017001230104. 


  1. ^ "breadwinner". Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. Pearson ELT. 
  2. ^ Bjørnholt, Margunn (2014). "Changing men, changing times; fathers and sons from an experimental gender equality study" (PDF). The Sociological Review 62 (2): 295–315. doi:10.1111/1467-954X.12156. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c Pascall, Gillian (2010), "Male breadwinner model", in Pascall, Gillian et al., International encyclopedia of social policy, London New York: Routledge, ISBN 9780415576949.  Text.
  5. ^ Dugan, Emily (19 February 2014). "Number of women in work in Britain hits record high - but figures show the gender pay gap is growing too". The Independent (Independent Print Limited). Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  6. ^ Crompton, Rosemary (1999). Restructuring gender relations and employment: the decline of the male breadwinner. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198296089. 
  7. ^ Cunningham, Mick (September 2008). "Changing attitudes toward the male breadwinner, female homemaker family model: Influences of women's employment and education over the lifecourse". Social Forces (Oxford Journals) 87 (1): 299–323. doi:10.1353/sof.0.0097. 
  8. ^ a b Sayer, Liana C.; Bianchi, Suzanne M.; Robinson, John P. (July 2004). "Are parents investing less in children? Trends in mothers' and fathers' time with children". American Journal of Sociology (The University of Chicago Press via JSTOR) 110 (1): 1–43. doi:10.1086/386270. 
  9. ^ Lewis, Jane (Summer 2001). "The decline of the male breadwinner model: The implications for work and care". Social Politics (Oxford Journals) 8 (2): 152–170. doi:10.1093/sp/8.2.152. 
  10. ^ World Economic Forum (2013). Insight Report: The Global Gender Gap Report 2013 (PDF) (Report). World Economic Forum, Switzerland. p. 103. Retrieved 19 October 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Wang, Wendy; Parker, Kim; Taylor, Paul (29 May 2013). Breadwinner moms, mothers are the sole or primary provider in four-in-ten households with children: Public conflicted about the growing trend (PDF). Pew Research Center (Report) (Washington, DC). 
  12. ^ a b Pew Research Center (19 November 2010). The decline of marriage and rise of new families (Report). Pew Research Center. Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  13. ^ Creighton, Colin (September 1999). "The rise and decline of the 'male breadwinner family' in Britain". Cambridge Journal of Economics (Oxford Journals) 23 (5): 519–541. doi:10.1093/cje/23.5.519. 
  14. ^ Thaler, Richard H. (1 June 2013). "Breadwinner wives and nervous husbands". The New York Times (Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr.). Retrieved 18 October 2014.