Wives' work and family income mobility
Over the past 30 years, married women in the United States have significantly increased their labor market activity and become an integral factor in their families’ ongoing economic wellbeing. This change raises questions about the economic impact of two-earner families becoming the norm. Do American families now need both a working husband and a working wife to have any hope of getting ahead or to keep from falling behind? How much does a wife’s labor market activity (participation, hours, and earnings) matter in her family’s ability to make income gains, hold its place relative to other families, or avoid losing ground? ; Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, this paper focuses on married-couple families during three ten-year periods (1969-79; 1979-89; 1988-98) to see whether favorable family income mobility outcomes are associated with greater wives’ labor market activity and finds that they are. Wives in families that moved ahead or maintained their position had high and rising employment rates, work hours, and pay. Moreover, the annual earnings of wives in upwardly mobile families increased relative to those of their husbands. The popular perception that families needed to work more hours just to hold their own relative to other families is confirmed, and almost all of the increase in work hours came from wives.
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