Updated 1:11 p.m. ET Wednesday 6/5
(CNN) – The recently renewed debate over working mothers gained more traction Tuesday when a Republican governor suggested the country’s education problems were the result of both parents holding jobs.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, speaking at a Washington Post education forum, seemed to anticipate the backlash his comments may spark, but proceeded anyway after being asked why America’s schools had fallen behind compared to other countries.
“I’m going to get in trouble. You want me to tell the truth? Should I tell you the truth? I think when both parents started working. When the mom’s in the workplace – it’s not a bad thing, I’m going to get in trouble, I can see the e-mails tomorrow – but now both parents are working, they’re pursuing their careers, it’s great,” Bryant said.
Later, he added that “In today’s society, parents are so challenged. Not just the mom, the mom and the dad. They’re working overtime, they’re trying to balance both of them in the workplace. That’s just one of the small features that we’ve seen.”
His remarks come after a refreshed debate over women in the workplace, sparked in part by a report last week showing a record number of women are the sole or primary breadwinner for their families.
In four out of 10 households, women are now the main earner, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Pew Research Center.
In a survey of Americans, Pew researchers found surprising reactions to a greater role of women in the workplace.
Fifty-one percent said they believe children are better off when a mom stays home with the kids and doesn't hold a job. Only about 8% said the same about fathers.
Half also said the increase in the number of women working for pay has made it harder for marriages to succeed. On the other hand, two thirds said it has made it easier for families to live more comfortably.
Curiously, 79% rejected the idea that women should return to their "traditional roles."
Bryant's spokesman Mick Bullock released a statement Wednesday, saying the governor was "plainly" stating that parents should not be "left out of the equation when it comes to addressing literacy and education for children."
"Many families don't have a lot of time because they are balancing both parents being in the workplace-something the Governor and First Lady understand," he added. "Both of them worked full time outside the home while rearing two children. This lack of time puts pressure on families, and it impacts children and their education."
CNN's Kevin Liptak and CNNMoney's Annalyn Kurtz contributed to this report.