How Has Wives' Share of Income Changed?

December 29, 2016


This is the final post in a three-part series examining the changing work roles of wives and husbands.

This series has examined trends in prime-age (age 25-54) married men who work part time or aren’t participating in the labor force. The first post examined some of the reasons married men may not be working full time. The second post covered some of the characteristics of these men's households. This post focuses on the income generated by the wives of men not working full time.

For the period 1970-2015, Research Fellow Limor Golan and former Senior Research Associate Usa Kerdnunvong found that the share of these men whose wives worked full time has increased, despite a short dip after the Great Recession. (For a figure showing these trends, see The Regional Economist article “Home Economics: The Changing Work Roles of Wives and Husbands.”)

Shares of Income Earned by Wives

This increase has coincided with an increase in the median share of wives’ incomes. For all married couples, the share rose from close to 2 percent in 1970 to about 30 percent in the late 1990s. It has fluctuated around that 30 percent mark since then.

In families where the husband works part time or does not participate in the labor force, the wives’ share of income is even higher. (See the “Home EconomicsRegional Economist article for a figure detailing these trends.) Golan and Kerdnunvong noted: “However, in families in which men work part time or do not participate, the wife’s income in recent years has been equal to or has exceeded that of the husband.”


This series has focused on changes in prime-age married men’s labor supply and the increasing role of wives in providing economic support for their families.

The authors concluded: “Although many papers suggest that the role of the changes in labor demand is important, the descriptive analysis cannot be used to infer causal effect and to separate demand and supply factors. However, it is important to assess the role of the marriage market and the role of both spouses in generating income and providing housework in order to fully understand trends in labor participation and hours worked and how they interact with business cycles and labor market conditions.”

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