Women As Economic Providers

Dual-Earner Families Thrive As Women's Earnings Rise
June 30, 2015

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Summary

Women’s contributions to family income are essential for most families. This is obviously true for the growing number of single-mother families, but increasingly so for married couple families. While dual-earner families are doing relatively well, family income overall has been stagnant or decreasing among single-earner families, resulting in a widening income gap. This study provides an examination of married and single women’s contributions to family income. Single women are comprised of those who are cohabiting, in same sex marriages, living alone, with parents or other family members, or living with roommates. In this brief, we consider family income for all single and married women. In the case that single women live alone or with nonrelatives, family income is comprised of the woman’s income.

Analysis of Current Population Survey data for 2000 and 2013 shows that dual-earner couples have higher family incomes than sole-earner married couples or single women with or without children. Of different family types, married couples in which the husband is the primary earner (the husband earns 60 percent or more of total family earnings) had the highest median family income in 2013 ($101,000), followed closely by married couples in which both spouses had similar earnings ($98,000). In contrast, single mothers with children had the lowest median family income ($30,000). In addition, family income rose among dual-earner couples primarily due to an increase in these wives’ earnings, but declined among sole-earner married-couple and single-women families from 2000 to 2013, contributing to increased inequality. See Box 1 for a definition of terms.

Wives in husband primary-earner families consistently contributed 24 percent of family income, while wives in wife primary-earner families contributed 67 percent of family income in 2013.

Introduction

With women’s rising levels of education, employment, and earnings, the position of women in the family and in society at large has shifted. Women’s contributions to family income are now essential for most families, obviously for the growing number of single-mother families, but increasingly so for married couple families. The increasingly positive trends for women’s economic independence mask variations in their labor market experiences and, by extension, the well-being of American families. While dual-earner couple families are doing quite well in terms of income,1 family income has been stagnant or decreasing among single-earner families, resulting in a widening gap and “diverging destinies”driven by family structure, women’s employment, and men’s standing in the labor force. And as life pathways, experiences, and opportunities diverge, shared social experience erodes.3

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