This is an update of previous reports with some new analysis at the end.
In my book Enduring Bonds I showed the distribution of income within different-sex married couples from 1970 to 2014. Here is the updated trend to 2017:
The change from 2014 is a modest continuation. Here’s the detail from 2017, with the couples reporting exactly-even incomes broken out in the middle:
In 2017, for different-sex couples with wife age 18-64:
- 26% of wives earn more than their husbands (up from 15% in 1990 and 7% in 1970).
- The average wife-who-earns-more takes home 69% of the couple’s earnings. The average for higher-earning husbands is 79%.
- It is 8.3-times more common for a husband to earn all the money than a wife (18.7% versus 2.3%).
In the book I offer the following summary:
Actually, this triplet pattern fits a lot of trends regarding gender inequality: yes, lots of change, but most of it decades ago, and not quite as fundamental as it looks.
At the request of Stephanie Coontz, I ran the 2017 numbers by income bracket (and including all ages). I broke the couples into the bottom 10% (under $27,000), the 10-25th percentile (to $47,000), the 25th-5th (to $80,000), the 50th-75th (to $130,000), the 75th-90th (to $202,000), and the top 10% ($202,000+). Here is the income distribution within couples for each income bracket, with a few points labeled for clarity:
A key point here is that although wives rarely earn the dominant share of income, most couples rely on the wife’s income to maintain their standard of living. For example, a couple at the median, $80,000, would have to drastically alter their lifestyle without the 40-49% share contributed by the wife’s income. Breadwinning in its 1950s connotation is is distracting from this contemporary reality, and we should probably drop the term.