The State of U.S. Mothers in 2022

A Fact Sheet
Blog Post
May 3, 2022

This year U.S. families celebrate a third Mother’s Day in the midst of an historic pandemic, one that has killed nearly one million people and forever altered the shape of work and family life for millions. Moms are struggling, at home and at work, but there are research-backed solutions to alleviate some of this pain. Instead of spending yet another Mother’s Day singing the praises of the critical and often unsung roles mothers play in society, let’s shift the conversation to understanding the burdens mothers carry for the country, and the policies and programs we can put in place to support the critical work they do  and allow mothers to thrive. 

Though mothers in the U.S. are an increasingly diverse population, with a wide variety of ages, racial backgrounds, family structures, and jobs, the latest data suggest some growing trends among mothers that warrant both awareness and action. 

Here’s an overview of the state of mothers in 2022, and the solutions that can make a difference for moms this year and the years ahead.

Who Are America's Moms?

  • According to pre-pandemic data from a 2018 Pew Research survey, 86 percent of women between ages 40 and 44 in the US are mothers. On average, they have 2.07 children each. [Pew Research Center]
  • Age of moms: According to pre-pandemic data, the average age of first time mothers in the US is 26, though it is on the rise among women from multiple socioeconomic groups  [LINK].
  • The U.S. is more racially diverse than ever before, and so are its mothers: Pew Research Center has shown a dramatic rise in the number of births to Hispanic and Asian women since the 1990s [LINK]. In some states, births to foreign-born mothers represent more than one-third of total new births [LINK]. 

Becoming a Mom is Risky

Some women may be putting off motherhood due to financial and health risks associated with motherhood in America:

  • 64 percent of young adults say they’re having fewer children than they’d like because childcare is too expensive [LINK]
  • According to pre-pandemic data, “the gap between the number of children that women say they want to have (2.7) and the number of children they will probably actually have (1.8) has risen to the highest level in 40 years” [LINK]
  • The U.S has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country in the world, according to The Common Wealth Fund
  • U.S. law does not presently guarantee pregnant workers the accommodations they need to maintain their employment and stay healthy—this would be remedied by passing the Federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
  • The Center for Disease Control reports that Black women face maternal mortality rates two to three times that of white women [LINK]. 

More Mothers are Doing it Solo

“Almost a quarter of U.S. children under the age of 18 live with one parent and no other adults (23%), more than three times the share of children around the world who do so (7%),” according to data from the Census Bureau. [LINK

The number of moms parenting solo is up 4.5 percent [LINK], giving the US the largest share of single parent households of any country in the world. 

Moms are Breadwinners, but Still Not Paid Enough

  • Before the pandemic, 41% of moms were breadwinners for their households, earning at least half of their household’s total income, according to a study by the Center for American Progress. The majority of families need moms' wages to make ends meet.  
  • Now, after two years of major health, care and workplace disruptions, more than 1 million women are still out of the labor force compared to February of 2020, and women with caregiving responsibilities for children and older adults are far more likely than men to have scaled back their work hours (NWLC). Yet households still rely on mothers’ income - especially with rising prices. Good work and fair wages are essential.
  • Due to structural racism, Black, Brown, Indigenous and other moms of color experience compounded wage and hiring discrimination. According to pre-pandemic data, Latina moms earn just 46 cents, Native American moms just 50 cents and Black moms just 52 cents to a White dad's dollar, according to the National Women's Law Center. Moms, on average, are paid just 75 cents to every dollar that White fathers are paid, per that same study (NWLC). Women of color are still disproportionately unemployed or out of the labor force, and cycles in and out of work for mothers contribute to lower lifetime earnings and wealth.
  • Despite their representation in the labor force, the time mothers spend doing unpaid work like child care and housework has increased in recent decades [LINK].

Solution: Improve Care Infrastructure

Studies show that passing care infrastructure policies that cover people of all genders would not only boost our economy and help families, but also significantly help close the wage gaps between moms and non-moms -- and thus between women and men. 

  • In addition, with investments in care, which are essential for women’s full employment, U.S. GDP would increase by nearly 3% and women's poverty would be cut in half, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research. And a recent study found that building a care infrastructure would lift our country's long-term real GDP growth by 10 to 15 basis points.

Solution: Close the Wage Gap

If we take steps to close the wage gap by implementing solutions already at our fingertips, including expanding access to paid family and medical leave to help keep women in the workforce, stronger equal pay protections and robust enforcement of equal pay laws, parity in pay between part-time and full-time work, encouraging, training and supporting women in occupations typically held by men, and compensating jobs that women typically do to the same extent as jobs traditionally held by men, women’s earnings and wealth will increase. Moms will be better able to help children thrive and secure their own financial security in the short term and into retirement. 

Moms are at High Risk of Poverty

"Women in America are still 35 percent more likely than men to be poor in America, with single mothers facing the highest risk. Currently, 35 percent of single women with children live and raise their families in poverty," according to a report by Legal Momentum, the women's legal defense and education fund.

Mothers are three times as likely as fathers to have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Even though the economy added 431,000 jobs in March 2022, the economy is still down nearly 1.6 million net jobs since February 2020, and women are down over 1.1 million net jobs since February 2020. This means that seven in ten (70.0%) net jobs lost since the start of this crisis are women’s jobs. As of March 2022, there are still 872,000 fewer women in the labor force now than in pre-pandemic February 2020. By comparison, 493,000 more men ages 20 and over are in the labor force now than in February 2020. [LINK

Solution: A Permanent Expanded Child Tax Credit

From July to December 2021, U.S. parents of young children received between $250 and $350 a month per child in the form of monthly direct deposits. One study found the expanded tax credit reduced child poverty by almost 30 percent [LINK]. The advocacy organization Parents Together Action found that 77% of the parents they surveyed said the monthly CTC made them less anxious about their finances, and 90% said the payments were “helpful” or made a “huge difference” for their family. [LINK

Solution: Raise the Federal Minimum Wage and Eliminate the Tipped Minimum Wage

The federal minimum wage has been set at $7.25 since 2009. The minimum wage for tipped workers is just $2.13. Women are more likely than men to earn at or below the minimum wage, and women are more than two-thirds of tipped minimum wage earners, according to the National Women’s Law Center. They also find that in states without tipped minimum wages, women fare drastically better. 

Families Don't Have or Can't Afford Child Care

Because the majority of mothers and fathers work for pay, fifty-nine percent of young children in the United States are in regular non-parental child care, according to 2019 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. That number does not count the millions of school-age kids who use child-care programs for before- and after-school care or during the summer [LINK]

  • In 2018, the Center for American Progress found that more than half of Americans—51 percent—live in neighborhoods classified as child care deserts, “any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no child care providers or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots.” [CAP
  • Since the pandemic began, those numbers are likely to have grown. An estimated 16,000 child care providers have closed their doors since 2020 [Child Care Aware of America].
  • The child care workforce is down 12.4% from its pre-pandemic levels, as early educators earn low wages and rely on public assistance, due to the U.S.’s unique lack of public investment in early care and learning [LINK]. 

The cost of child care has been rising faster than inflation for years – and will continue to rise steeply absent public investment.

Solution: Treat Child Care as a Public Good, Not an Individual One

Like public schools, quality child care is needed for families to thrive and businesses to prosper. Some states, like Vermont, are beginning now to see that workforce development depends on bringing in young families and offering child care through the state. Until child care is treated as a public good, akin to public education, it will flounder on the individual market with unstable economic conditions, low pay, high turnover of educators, and limiting quality options to only affluent families in certain parts of the country. 

Solution: Limit Child Care Costs at a Percentage of Income

Capping child care costs at 7 percent of income for middle-class families, would save the average family $14,800 per year, according to the White House.

Moms are Burning Out

Moms carry a heavy mental load. Although gender equity within households has increased, women in households with children are still doing the brunt of the housework and childcare. 

  • When the pandemic started, nearly 80% of mothers had been primarily responsible for doing the housework, while 66% were chiefly responsible for the child care among partnered parents. [Link]
  • When it came to supporting kids with remote schooling from home during the pandemic, parents’ contributions were even more skewed. Three-quarters of mothers reported spending more time on it; only one-third of dads did. (All numbers are from a new study by sociologists Allison Dunatchik, Kathleen Gerson, Jennifer Glass, Jerry A. Jacobs and Haley Stritzel in Gender & Society, forthcoming in April.) [LINK
  • Moms struggled more than dads with childcare duties. While working mothers and fathers agreed that, as the pandemic went on, fulfilling childcare duties became more difficult (52 percent, up from 38 percent in 2020), a larger share of moms (57 percent) than dads (47 percent) felt that way, according to a January 2021 Pew Research Center survey
  • Moms face worsening mental health. According to the American Psychological Association’s March 2021 Stress in America Report, a larger share of mothers (39 percent) than fathers (25 percent) said their mental health has worsened. 

Solution: Improving Access to High Quality Mental Health Care

A pre-pandemic report found that “11.5 percent of new mothers in the United States from 2015-2018 were uninsured; among those, about 20 percent chose to forgo needed medical care due to cost” [Urban Institute]. The Affordable Care Act expanded mental health coverage by requiring most insurance plans to include mental health care, but Congress must make those changes permanent and expand access to high quality services for low-income women through Medicaid. 

Solution: Paid Child Care or Flexible Schedules for all Working Parents

Offering paid childcare or flexible schedules for all working parents would expand their ability to give attention to what is necessary without fatigue. This would not only help working mothers directly, but a gender neutral, workplace flexibility policy may also de-stigmatize being a working caregiver, and encourage more men to step into caregiving roles.. For more policy options that protect women and mothers as we recover from the she-cession, read IWPR’s report “Build(ing) the Future: Bold Policies for a Gender-Equitable Recovery” as well as the Better Life Lab’s comprehensive report on on building workplaces for the new Coronanormal