Education’s Role in Work Decisions of Married Couples

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

HusbandWifeEducation
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The first post in this series examined some of the potential reasons behind the changes in work roles for wives and husbands. This post will examine some of the characteristics of households in which prime-age (age 25-54) married men were either not participating in the labor force or worked part time.

Husbands’ Education

In an article in The Regional Economist, Research Fellow Limor Golan and former Senior Research Associate Usa Kerdnunvong looked at two groups of prime-age married men over the period 1970 to 2015:

  • Those who are not participating in the labor force
  • Those who work part time

For both of these groups, the fraction of men with a high school degree or less has decreased since 1970, while the fraction with at least some college education has risen. (Figures for each of these sections can be found in The Regional Economist article “Home Economics: The Changing Work Roles of Wives and Husbands.”)

Wives’ Education

The educational attainment of the wives of men who worked part time or weren’t in the labor force has changed as well. Golan and Kerdnunvong noted that the fraction of these men married to women with high school education or less has declined significantly since 1970.

They wrote: “The fact that women in households in which males work part time or do not participate are more educated than in the past (and given the decline in the gender earnings gap) may imply that these women are more likely to work, earn relatively more and provide more economic support for their families.”

Wives’ Earning Potential

Along with looking at the education composition of households, Golan and Kerdnunvong wrote: “The relative earning potential of the spouses in the household can be important to understanding how the spouses allocate their time among jobs, housework, child care and leisure.”

The authors showed that, among married men working part time or not participating in the labor force, there is a clear decline in those who are married to women with the same education level or less and an increase in the fraction of those who are married to women who are more educated than they are. They wrote: “The percentage of those married to wives who are relatively more educated than them increased from about 9 percent in 1970 to about 27 percent in 2015.”

Golan and Kerdnunvong noted that these statistics suggest that:

  • The earning potential of women in these households is higher than it used to be.
  • These women may have better labor market prospects than men.
  • These women have an important role in providing economic support for their families.

The final post in this series will address the relative share of earnings of wives whose husbands work part time or are not participating in the labor force.

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Additional Resources

Posted In Labor  |  Tagged limor golanusa kerdnunvonglabormarried menhusbandswiveslabor force participation
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