More wives becoming primary breadwinners, BGSU researchers find


BOWLING GREEN, O.—The Great Recession of 2007-09 has caused some shifts in earnings among dual-earner married couples, including a marked rise in the number of wives who are earning more than their husbands.

New findings by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research (NCFMR) at Bowling Green State University show that in 65 percent of married couples, both husbands and wives are earners. In 2006, among dual earner couples, wives contributed 38 percent to the couple’s total earnings on average; by 2011, that figure had risen to 40 percent — a 5 percent increase, the report shows.

In an even greater shift, BGSU researchers Dr. Krista Payne, an NCFMR social science data analyst, and Larry Gibbs, a graduate assistant in the sociology department, report a recent rise in wives out-earning their husbands among dual-earner married couples. Over the past five years, the share of dual-earner married couples in which wives are the primary breadwinners (that is, wives contribute at least 60 percent of the couple’s earnings) climbed from 13 percent to 16 percent — a 23 percent increase.

“Increasingly, wives are contributing the majority of the family’s earnings. But these families aren’t necessarily better off,” said Payne.

Couples in which the wife is the primary breadwinner have the lowest median couple earnings. In 2011, among couples in which the wife was the primary breadwinner, median couple earnings were roughly $73,000. For those couples in which the husband earned more, median couple earnings were about $83,000. Couples in which the husband and wife contributed similar proportions of earnings had the highest median couple earnings, at about $84,800.

Equality in breadwinning, where spouses contribute similar shares of earnings that within a 40-60 split, appears to maximize couples’ financial well-being,” Gibbs said.

“These patterns speak to the shifting gender dynamics in contemporary marriages and also provide new insights on how the Great Recession may be affecting dual earner families,” said NCFMR co-director Dr. Susan Brown, a professor of sociology.

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(Posted March 11, 2013 )