February 18, 2021 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
The breathless news from a new survey is that single mothers with primary or sole custody of children tend to earn less than other mothers (Parents, 1/15/21). That of course is the oldest of old news. We’ve known for decades that single mothers with children in the home are the most likely of all adults to live in poverty. Part of that stems from the fact that those mothers are responsible for a lot more childcare than other parents and therefore are unable to work, earn and save as much. It’s not a difficult concept, but Emma Johnson, who did the survey, is a friend to equal parenting, so the survey contains some important facts bearing thereon.
Johnson surveyed 2,279 single moms about their income, feelings about work and income, and their time-sharing arrangements with their kids’ dads.
So she garnered information on mothers with equal parenting arrangements, how they felt about those arrangements and how they were doing financially. The results are both telling and unsurprising.
Additionally, the survey found that moms who had a 50/50 parenting schedule were:
54 percent more likely to earn at least $100,000 annually than moms whose kids are with them most of the time (with “visits” with the dad).
More than three times (325 percent) more likely to earn $100,000 than single moms with 100 percent time with their kids.
More than twice as likely to earn $65,000+, and nearly three-times as likely to earn that sum than moms with 100 percent parenting time.
34 percent more likely to say they feel “awesome and proud” of being a mom compared with moms who care for their kids 100 percent of the time.
[A] whopping 98 percent of [mothers with equal custody] reported being content with it. Meanwhile, 51 percent of single moms surveyed have their children 100 percent of the time, and about 70 percent of those moms feel parenting gets in the way of self-care versus just 50 percent of moms with 50/50 schedules.
For Johnson, the bottom line is this:
“There is a direct correlation between single-moms’ income and overall well-being and time sharing-equality with their children’s dads.”
That’s impressive stuff and should be shared with judges and state legislatures everywhere.
Alas, neither the survey nor the article takes on certain obvious questions. For example, if mothers are happier with equal parenting and earn more money, why don’t more of them request it in court? Indeed, one of Johnson’s findings is that only 13% of the mothers surveyed had a 50/50 time split with their ex. The simple fact is that, overwhelmingly, in study after study, it’s mothers who demand sole or primary custody when Mom and Dad split up. No one requires them to do so, but they do. In all my years of researching and writing on family courts, I can’t recall a single instance of a mother who requested equal parenting, but whose ex demanded that she have sole or primary custody.
The simple fact, as borne out by countless studies and sets of data, is that mothers are highly motivated to spend as much time with their children as they can. That fact, coupled with family courts’ “winner take all” approach to custody and anti-father bias, result in mothers having the lion’s share of parenting time and fathers pleading for more.
I hate to mention it to Johnson, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that her survey suffers from selection bias. That is, the mothers with equal parenting were those who gravitated to the idea in the first place because they thought it served their and their children’s needs better than any other arrangement. So it’s no surprise that, having been granted what they wanted, they’re happy with it.
Still, my speculations aside, it’s good to see data on mothers’ earnings and contentment with shared parenting. As I said, judges and legislatures everywhere need to see Johnson’s results. My guess is that nothing will spur them to action like a desire to help mothers.