Why ‘Mama Ain’t Happy’: Breadwinning Moms and Life Satisfaction

Annie Holmquist | June 6, 2019

Why ‘Mama Ain’t Happy’: Breadwinning Moms and Life Satisfaction

I have a photo board hanging in my office filled with pictures of friends and their families. Many of these pictures feature smiling mothers surrounded by smiling children. In essence, they make motherhood look like a very happy and joyful experience.

Those smiling faces aren’t perpetual, though. Like all of us, mothers have rough days.

The question is, in the midst of those rough days, are mothers happy? Despite the bumps in the road, do mothers experience satisfaction with their family life?

This question was recently examined by the Institute for Family Studies, specifically in regard to breadwinning moms. Breadwinning moms, it is explained, are those who make more money than their husbands. Of this category, 56 percent of women have a high satisfaction in life. Not bad, huh?

But the satisfaction levels of breadwinning moms pale in comparison to those of non-breadwinning moms, with nearly 70 percent of the latter group expressing great satisfaction with their family life.

The study goes on to examine these differences further, noting that breadwinning mothers often do a greater share of housework and childcare than their spouse. In other words, they’re likely tired and overworked. And when one is tired and overworked, nothing in life looks very rosy.

“Men just need to step up and help out!” is the natural response to such news. And such a response is reasonable. Men should be willing to share the load and relieve the pressure on their wives, especially when both are working outside the home.

But is there a component many of us overlook when we lay this solely on men? Could it be that women have a natural inclination to take care of the home? Do they feel a greater desire and responsibility to spend more time nurturing their children, making their meals, doing their laundry, and keeping the house clean for them?

If this is so, then does society expect too much when it tells women they can both hold down a job and maintain a family?

Sociologist Richard Weaver recognized the possibility of this when he wrote the following in his book, Ideas Have Consequences:

[H]ordes of women have gone into industry and business, where the vast majority of them labor without heart and without incentive. Conscious of their displacement, they see no ideal in the task. And, in fact, they are not treated as equals; they have been made the victims of a transparent deception. Taken from a natural sphere in which they are superior, they are set to wandering between two worlds.

Weaver calls this “a social seduction of the female sex.” He goes on to say:

Women have been misled by the philosophy of activism into forgetting that for them, as custodians of the values, it is better to ‘be’ than to ‘do.’ Maternity, after all, as Walt Whitman noted, is ‘an emblematical attribute.’

Given this latest research on female family satisfaction, does Weaver make a reasonable point? Are we contributing to the unhappiness and stress of women when we suggest that they can happily hold both a fulltime job and manage a family?


[Image Credit: Flickr-taylormackenzie CC BY-SA 2.0]


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