If you want to see what the future looks like, consider the Hawkins family of Michigan, whose choices, if they don't already, may one day resemble your own.
The Hawkinses could have stepped out of a Hallmark card: back in the 1970s, Ford engineer Gary Hawkins supported six children while his wife Marcelle stayed home in suburban Detroit to raise them. Now grown, the Hawkins siblings can't tell you when they noticed that everything had changed, only that they have become a family of female breadwinners.
Eldest son Danny graduated from the University of Michigan and took a job in finance, but he rebelled at the crushing hours. So in the mid-'90s, he left to become a stay-at-home dad to his two daughters. His wife Susan serves as a top executive at the Henry Ford Health System. He is a master of the shopping list, appointment calendar and household budget; he has served as treasurer of the PTA and the homeowners' association; and on Halloween, just for fun, he did a statistical analysis of trick-or-treaters to gauge how much candy to buy the following year.
"I have told Susie several times that my job is to make her life easier, and I like doing it," says Danny, whose sister Leslie married a man, Damon Ajlouny, who everybody thought would be a hotshot corporate lawyer. Instead he stepped back to become his family's secondary earner, selling real estate, cooking ambitiously and coaching the kids. "We both have made sacrifices," says Leslie, who expands the definition of provider to include what Damon does. As a parent, she points out, "your priority is to provide for your family--the love, the affection, the nurturing. For us, it's about what's best for the family." Another sister, Rhonda, changed majors in college so many times, she lost count; now she is her company's global director of marketing, "kind of by accident," she says. When her job began to require extensive travel, often on short notice, her husband Hank reduced his hours in restaurant management--a job he loved. "She's had to make a lot of sacrifices to get where she is," Hank says. "It would be wrong of me to say, 'Oh, you're not taking that next step, because I'm ready to do what I want to do.' I didn't think that would be fair."
Two other Hawkins sisters are also in female-breadwinner households; only one brother fills the role of primary earner. Six adult siblings, five households supported by women. One generation. One seismic economic, social and emotional change.
Assuming present trends continue, by the next generation, more families will be supported by women than by men. Not since women entered the workforce by the millions after World War II has America witnessed economic change on this scale. Some of this is driven by the dramatic rise in single-parent families, but it is increasingly true in two-earner families as well. In 2009, the most recent year for which U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures are available, nearly 4 in 10 working wives outearned their husbands--an increase of more than 50% from 20 years before. There was a jump in the first decade of the 21st century, even before the Great Recession began in 2007, suggesting it's not a blip in the economic cycle.