Black Women Have Long Been Primary Breadwinners

What Women Really Think
April 5 2012 2:50 PM

Women as Primary Breadwinner? Black Women Know All About It

Black women have long been primary breadwinners for their families.

Diego Cervo /

Though obvious on its face, the point bears occasional repetition: When we speak of “women” in the feminist blogscape, we are often talking about a specific demographic profile; usually white, straight, middle-class and somewhat liberal. But in reality, of course, women are a far more diverse bunch, with a diversity of experience and perspective to match. As Amanda Marcotte and Libby Copeland have discussed here recently (in response to comments made by S.C. Governor Nikki Haley), conservative women see the contraception debate and the “War on Women” in general from a very different point of view than we might expect. And, as we consider the quickly approaching future in which women are predicted to be the primary breadwinners in most households, African-American women have something unique to add to discussion as well—they’ve been living that “future” for a long time already.

According to a post by Zerlina Maxwell that’s making the rounds, Black women are already the “lifeblood” of their families in a community hard hit by the recession and in which men face added, often racist, obstacles to employment. The American Prospect had a piece back in 2008 exploring the issue, and the findings support Maxwell’s point:


Because of the limited economic prospects for black men, black women are likely to be both primary caregivers and primary breadwinners in our families. In nearly 44 percent of black families with children, a woman is the primary breadwinner. This includes both families headed by working single mothers and married-couple families in which the wife works and the husband does not. These female breadwinner families account for over 32 percent of aggregate black family income. 

Maxwell argues that white women might want to take a lesson as our culture moves into the new economic landscape: “Black women who have been able to navigate this new frontier may be able to offer some guidance as we’ve been here first…”

It’s good advice, because as Liza Mundy describes in her new book, The Richer Sex, the dynamics of domestic life are in for a shake-up. For one thing, definitions of masculinity will have to change (an issue I’ve written about elsewhere), and, more generally, couples will have to renegotiate issues covering everything from chores to sexual attraction. As this economic power shift for women in general becomes more pronounced, it behooves all of us to remember that there are actually some women who are already well ahead of the curve.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.