Reliance on Wives’ Income Still at Record Level

If you’re a mom who had to return to the workforce during the past couple of years because your partner lost his job, you aren’t alone.


The “Great Recession” has ended and the economy is slowly improving. But American families are still dependent on wives’ income at record levels. Employed wives’ contributions to total family income is holding steady at 47 percent, the highest level in decades, according to recent research from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Carsey Institute.


Massive job losses during the recession – primarily in male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction – left families with lower earnings, and wives’ earnings became more crucial to keeping families afloat. Faced with diminished savings, housing values and retirement accounts, it’s likely that women who joined the workforce because their husbands were unemployed will remain there after their husbands return to work, UNH researchers say.


“If history is a good guide, it is likely that wives’ share of total family earnings will not return to pre-recession levels, but rather, the Great Recession will serve to propel wives’ contributions higher,” notes Kristin Smith, a family demographer with the Carsey Institute and research assistant professor of sociology at UNH.


From 2008 to 2009, employed wives’ contribution to total family earnings rose from 45 percent to 47 percent – the largest single-year increase during the past 23 years. It has held steady since then, Smith says. In fact, in all three recessions this country has experienced since 1988, employed wives’ share of total family earnings has risen substantially.


This means, Smith says, that we all need to pay attention to the implications of wives as breadwinners for families.


“Policies to support working families, such as paid sick leave and paid family medical leave, affordable quality child care, livable wages, and measures that increase workplace flexibility, could help reduce the work and family conflict that many men and women experience,” she says.


Read the complete Carsey Institute report, which is based in part on U.S. Census data, at


– Deirdre Wilson

Be the first to review this item!

Bookmark this

21 Dec 2012