The Evolution of the Breadwinner

It’s likely that you’ve heard of someone in the family being ‘the breadwinner’, or the person who brings the lion’s share of money into the family home, but did you know that the ‘traditional’ model of there being a breadwinner and a homemaker is a relatively new concept? It may feel like the family set up of mum staying at home with the children and dad being the breadwinner is something which is rooted in history, but it’s mostly a 21st century invention. In fact, the dynamics of family life and how each family unit pays to live in the world are always evolving and changing, and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer.


In the past, before the first and second world wars, and before industry really began to take off, it was more common for both halves of a partnership to work. Work was a wholly different thing back in these days – it would be unlikely that both heads of the family would have to go out to work for someone else, and there were few office blocks or admin environments within which to work. It was more likely that a family would live on a plot of land, either owned and passed down through generations or rented as part of a larger estate. The women, men and children would have had to all pitch in to the running of the house. Many families would have grown their own foodand kept animals and all improvements or repairs would have been done by the family members and their friends.

Once the industrial revolution happened and the wars came and went, families were much better off and industry meant that they didn’t have to grow or rear most of their own food anymore. Families became more like the model we see as the ‘norm’ today. The head of the family (usually the husband/father) would go out to work and the wife/mother would stay at home and keep the house clean and tidy, look after any children and pursue hobbies. The breadwinner would have been likely to give the home-maker money for a household allowance.

out to work and the wife

Now, it takes more than one income to be able to live as a family, so most families are unable to live in this older way. Both parents are likely to have to work, and as both men and women are offered more opportunities than before and possibilities are growing, either the female or the male in a heterosexual relationship may be the breadwinner. For some it is still unusual that a woman can earn more than her male counterpart, but it’s becoming increasingly common. The fact is that the cost of living has risen to such a level that it’s almost impossible to get on the property ladder, enjoy holidays and raise children on one salary anymore (unless one parent has an unusually large salary). There’s no right or wrong answer to how you decide to fund your lifestyle, whether that includes a family or not, and it’s always evolving.

This article has been written by Coral Pearce Mariner on behalf The Guarantor Lending Blog.