A Gender Issue: Breadwinner Wives

Jun 3, 2013 • Behavioral Economics, Demand, Supply, and Markets, Education, Gender Issues, Households, Labor, Thinking Economically • 218 Views    No Comments

Tradition says men bring home the bacon and women prepare it. In fact, most men will even accept women bringing home some of the bacon…

But not the “filet mignon.”

Here are the facts:

3 University of Chicago researchers have concluded that women with greater earning potential are having a tougher time finding a spouse. And, even if they do wed, in marriages where the wife earns more than the husband…

  • divorce is more likely.
  • the wife will do more household chores than in marriages where the wife earns less.
  • the female will diminish her participation rate in the labor force and earn less than her potential.

Trying to answer why breadwinner women seem to be unraveling traditional marriage patterns, the Chicago economists start with “slowly changing identity norms” at home that perpetuate stereotypical male and female roles. By contrast, in the economic world, change is speeding along. Education has meant less of a gender gap in jobs and income. Birth control has enabled women to diminish the conflict between pregnancy at home and promotion at work. Technology lets women devote less time to traditional tasks like laundry and food preparation.

As a result, in 26% of all mariages among 18-65 year olds, the wife’s income does exceed her mate’s. Looked at slightly differently in a Pew study, among “breadwinner” women, 37% are married and earn more than their husbands while 67% are single moms.

37% of all breadwinner moms are married.

Our bottom line? Slowly changing gender identity norms constrain labor productivity.

Sources and Resources: Economist Richard Thaler tells the whole breadwinner mom story in this NY Times column (and was the source of my “filet mignon” quote.) If you want to investigate the academic perspective further, he links to the University of Chicago research and the Pew study.

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