Most children who grow up in the United States in the 21st century will be raised in households in which all of the adults work.1 They are most likely to be raised by a single working parent or two married parents who are both employed, and only a minority of children will grow up in families with a full-time, stay-at-home parent throughout their childhood.2 Although working parents are the modern norm and have been for years, the notion that most families already have a full-time caregiver available persists and continues to influence public policy as federal and, to a lesser extent, state policymaking has not prioritized work-family supports. In most families, every adult works; when a new child is welcomed into the family, when a child stays home sick from school, or when an aging parent suffers from a fall, someone must stay home to provide care—and this person is usually a mother, a wife, or an adult daughter…
Women of color are also much more likely than white women to be raising children while unmarried, even though white women make up the majority of unmarried mothers. In 2016, for example, 40 percent of all births in the United States were to unmarried mothers.16 This included 17 percent of births to Asian or Pacific Islander women, 29 percent to non-Hispanic white women, 53 percent to Hispanic women, 66 percent to American Indian or Alaskan native women, and 70 percent of births to non-Hispanic black women.17
But race and marital status are not simply variables to be controlled for in analysis, nor do they provide simple explanations for differences across groups. Women of color, and black women in particular, have a complex history in relation to work and the institution of marriage, in part because of how racism, stereotypes, and structural biases have shaped policy decisions, opportunities, and the lives of people of color in the past and present day. This context shapes the experiences of women of color in the United States and should be taken into account when analyzing any data relating to their lives.
When looking at historic shifts in mothers’ earnings and labor force participation rates, it is important to keep in mind that while the overall trends point toward change, certain groups of women—especially women of color and working-class women—have always been more likely to contribute significantly to their families’ incomes while simultaneously providing the majority of family care.