Working Wives’ Contributions to Total Family Income Rising, Says Carsey Institute

Employed wives brought home 47% of their family’s total earnings in 2009, up from 45% in 2008, according to a new report by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

That “marks the largest single-year increase in 15 years,” according to the report Wives as Breadwinners: Wives’ Share of Family Earnings Hits Historic High during the Second Year of the Great Recession.

The report’s author Kristin Smith notes that the increase is not a sign of less wage disparity between men and women, but a disproportionate increase in the unemployment rate among males.  The median salary for women actually fell from $31,041 in 2007 to $30,000 in 2009.  The unemployment rate for husbands in these families jumped from 3% in 2007 to 7% in 2009.

Smith’s earlier study noted that as the husband’s level of education increases, the wife’s proportional contribution decreases.  In families where a husband had less than a high school education, her contribution was 52%. When he had a college degree, her contribution was 40%.

In February 2010, The New England Journal of Higher Education published a study, Failure to Launch, by Lane A. Glen and Suzanne Van Wert.  This study shows that the achievement gaps between males and females is getting worse and that 80% of high school dropouts now are males.  Combining these two studies suggests that the importance of the wife as the “breadwinner” in a family will continue to grow in the future.


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