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Breadwinner Moms, Stay-at-Home Dads at All-Time High

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Economy shifts household earning power.

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The number of working moms who are the sole breadwinners in their families rose last year to an all-time high, and the number of stay-at-home dads edged higher, in a shift of traditional gender roles caused partly by massive job losses.

The number of moms who were the only working spouse rose for the third straight year, according to Census Bureau figures released Friday. The number of dads who were the only working spouse dropped, and the number of stay-at-home dads ticked higher.

The figures are for married couples with kids under 18.

"Women are really stepping in and helping families stay afloat. The question is whether men are stepping up and picking up the slack around home," said Kristin Smith, a family demographer at the University of New Hampshire.

In most households with moms as breadwinners, both parents were working until the husband was laid off or retired, and the wife remained in her job. In other situations, a non-working wife may have rejoined the labor force, in a growing industry such as teaching or health care, to sustain the family income after the husband was let go.

No industry is immune to layoffs these days. The New York Times Co. (NYT), Electronic Arts (ERTS), AOL (TWX), Sprint Nextel (S), Pfizer (PFE), Home Depot (HD), Caterpillar (CAT), even Google (GOOG) laid off employees this year.

By the numbers, about 4 percent or 963,000 moms were the only parent in the labor force. The share of fathers as the sole worker was much bigger -- 28.2 percent or 7.3 million -- but still the lowest since 2001. The share of couples who both work stayed the same at 66 percent or 17 million.

There were 158,000 stay-at-home dads, up from 140,000 in 2008. Still, the number is less than 1 percent of married couples.

The recession's toll has been harder on male-dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing. There are also longer-term cultural changes at work, too, as more women earn college degrees and the better job opportunities they bring.

"The economic crisis is heavily affecting families, and what the latest data show is that gender roles are flexible and are going in the direction of egalitarian roles," said Pamela J. Smock, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan.
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