Skip to content

Why Are Work Habits of Married Men Shifting?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Husband Wife Work.Dynamic

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

The labor force participation rate for men and the number of hours worked by men have both declined over the past four decades. Conversely, the fraction of women participating in the labor force and the number of hours worked by women have increased.

This blog post series, based on an article in The Regional Economist, examines these trends further, focusing on married couples. Specifically, Research Fellow Limor Golan and former Senior Research Associate Usa Kerdnunvong focused on prime-age (ages 25-54) married males because of the group’s traditional role of family breadwinner. They noted: “These men are typically attached to the labor market and work full time.”

Shifts in the Work of Married People

Golan and Kerdnunvong showed that the labor force participation rate for prime-age married men has declined from more than 97 percent in 1970 to below 93 percent, beginning in 2011. Over the same period, the fraction of prime-age husbands in the labor force working part time has risen from less than 1.5 percent to about 4 percent.

Married women in the labor force have also experienced a shift in part-time work, going from about 26 percent working part time in 1970 to about 22 percent working part time after 2000.

Changes in Labor Demand and Supply

The authors gave several potential reasons behind the shifts in labor force participation and hours worked for married people. For one, they explained that men have seen a decrease in demand for their labor, especially in the manufacturing sector. As the authors wrote: “This decline in demand is related to skill bias, technological changes and offshoring.”

At the same time, the married female labor supply has increased partially due to women increasing their education and the increase in relative wages in high-skill occupations.

Decline in Gender Pay Gap

Golan and Kerdnunvong noted that the wage gap between men and women has declined. As women earn higher incomes, married couples have more of an incentive for the husband to work fewer hours or to stay home.

Risk Pooling

The authors also pointed out that some wives may have higher incentive to work if their husbands work in low-skilled jobs or in declining industries. Golan and Kerdnunvong wrote: “With women’s strides in education, they can provide insurance within the household by working more when men lose their jobs or when the wages offered to men are low.”

A similar motivation may exist simply because the risk of lower wages for husbands is present. The authors noted: “Wives may decide to work outside the home when there is just a threat of unemployment or a decline in their husbands’ earnings.”

Searching for a Job

For husbands working part time, having wives earning incomes can allow them to spend more time searching for better-paying jobs or acquiring skills for such jobs or even altogether new occupations. Golan and Kerdnunvong wrote: “Thus, in households in which wives work full time, husbands might be able to be choosier in accepting jobs—they can afford to be less willing to take full-time jobs for low pay or jobs that may not offer good promotion prospects or other nonpecuniary qualities.”

The next post in this series will explore the changes in characteristics of households in which prime-age men were not participating in the labor force or worked part time between 1970 and 2015.

Follow the Series

Additional Resources

Posted In Labor  |  Tagged limor golanusa kerdnunvonglabormarried menhusbandswiveslabor force participation
Commenting Policy: We encourage comments and discussions on our posts, even those that disagree with conclusions, if they are done in a respectful and courteous manner. All comments posted to our blog go through a moderator, so they won't appear immediately after being submitted. We reserve the right to remove or not publish inappropriate comments. This includes, but is not limited to, comments that are:
  • Vulgar, obscene, profane or otherwise disrespectful or discourteous
  • For commercial use, including spam
  • Threatening, harassing or constituting personal attacks
  • Violating copyright or otherwise infringing on third-party rights
  • Off-topic or significantly political
The St. Louis Fed will only respond to comments if we are clarifying a point. Comments are limited to 1,500 characters, so please edit your thinking before posting. While you will retain all of your ownership rights in any comment you submit, posting comments means you grant the St. Louis Fed the royalty-free right, in perpetuity, to use, reproduce, distribute, alter and/or display them, and the St. Louis Fed will be free to use any ideas, concepts, artwork, inventions, developments, suggestions or techniques embodied in your comments for any purpose whatsoever, with or without attribution, and without compensation to you. You will also waive all moral rights you may have in any comment you submit.
comments powered by Disqus

The St. Louis Fed uses Disqus software for the comment functionality on this blog. You can read the Disqus privacy policy. Disqus uses cookies and third party cookies. To learn more about these cookies and how to disable them, please see this article.