In 2010, 28% of wives were earning more than their husbands. And wives were 8-times as likely as their husbands to have no earnings.
I still don’t have my copies of The End of Men, by Hanna Rosin, or The Richer Sex, by Liza Mundy. But I’ve read enough of their excerpts to plan out some quick data checks.
Both Rosin and Mundy say women are rapidly becoming primary earners, breadwinners, pants-wearers, etc., in their families. It is absolutely true that the trend is in that direction. Similarly, the Earth is heading toward being devoured by the Sun, but the details are still to be worked out. As Rosin wrote in her Atlantic article:
In feminist circles, these social, political, and economic changes are always cast as a slow, arduous form of catch-up in a continuing struggle for female equality.
Which is right. So, where are we now, really, and what is the pace of change?
For the question of relative income within married-couple families, which is only one part of this picture – and an increasingly selective one – I got some Census data for 1970 to 2010 from IPUMS.
I selected married couples (heterogamous, throughout this post) in which the wife was in the age range 25-54, with couple income greater than $0. I added husbands’ and wives’ incomes, and calculated the percentage of the total coming from the wife. The results show and increase from 7% to 28% of couples in which the wife earns more than the husband:
(Thanks to the NYTimes Magazine for the triumphant wife image).
Please note this is not the percentage of working wives who earn more. That would be higher — Mundy calls it 38% in 2009 — but it wouldn’t describe the state of all women, which is what you need for a global gender trend claim. This is the percentage of all wives who earn more, which is what you need to describe the state of married couples.
But this 51% cutoff is frustratingly arbitrary. No serious study of power and inequality would rest everything on one such point. Earning 51% of the couple’s earnings doesn’t make one “the breadwinner,” and doesn’t determine who “wears the pants.”
Looking at the whole distribution gives much more information. Here it is, at 10-year intervals:
These are the points that jump out at me from this graph:
- Couples in which the wife earns 0% of the income have fallen from 46% to 19%, but they are still 8-times as common as the reverse — couples where the wife earns 100%.
- There have been very big proportionate increases in the frequency of wives earning more — such as a tripling among those who earn 50-59% of the total, and a quadrupling among those in which the wife earns it all.
- But the most common wife-earning-more scenario is the one in which she earns just over half the total. Looking more closely (details in a later post) shows that these are mostly in the middle-income ranges. The poorest and the richest families are most often the ones in which the wife earns 0%.
Maybe it’s just the feminist in me that brings out the stickler in these posts, but I don’t think this shows us to be very far along on the road to female-dominance.
Previous posts in this series…
- Discussed The Richer Sex excerpt in Time (finding that, in fact, the richer sex is still men).
- Discussed that statistical meme about young women earning more than young men (finding it a misleading data manipulation), and showed that the pattern is stable and 20 years old.
- Debunked the common claim that “40% of American women” are “the breadwinners” in their families.
- Debunked the description of stay-at-home dads as the “new normal,” including correcting a few errors from Rosin’s TED Talk.
- Showed how rare the families are that Rosin profiled in her excerpt from The End of Men.