Dmitriy T.M. and Karla K. sent us a link to a story in the New York Times about the increase in the percent of men marrying women who earn more money than they do. A graphic from the Pew Research Center post the NYT article is based on:
While still a minority, there has obviously been a huge jump in the percent of men married to women who make more than them. I found the data on education equally striking, in that the percentages for husbands and wives almost exactly flipped between the two time periods. Scholars have noted for quite a while the increase in the number of women getting college degrees, in particular, such that in many fields more bachelor’s degrees are granted to women each year than to men, with the imbalance getting wider over time (this pattern doesn’t hold as you move up the educational ladder).
This graph shows the median household income, adjusted by family size and scaled to be equivalent for comparison, depending on gender and marital status:
It makes sense that the adjusted household incomes of married men and married women are pretty similar across the time period, since the two groups are pretty much tied to each other, given how recent and still limited legalized gay marriage is. It is interesting that until 1990 unmarried men had higher median household incomes than married men or women but since then have made less, with the gap widening. The Pew report explains part of the cause:
Marriage rates have declined for all adults since 1970 and gone down most sharply for the least educated men and women. As a result, those with more education are far more likely than those with less education to be married, a gap that has widened since 1970.
Aside from education, another major factor in the rise of incomes for married people is that in 1970, for many couples marriage did not mean the creation of a household with two income earners, whereas today most do.
Obviously unmarried women stand out because of their lower median household income relative to any of the other groups. Why would unmarried women have incomes so much lower than unmarried men? A number of possibilities come to mind. Gendered job segregation and the pay gap play a large role in differences in income by gender overall and are surely part of the cause of these disparities. Unmarried women may be more likely to work part-time than unmarried men, and it doesn’t appear that number of hours worked per week is controlled for here. It’s also possible that unmarried men are more likely to be in a household with a partner who earns an income than are unmarried women.
Regardless of the cause(s), it clearly indicates that unmarried women are at a significant disadvantage regarding income compared to every other group. It’s worth noting that the Pew report repeatedly focuses on how men have fared worse than women by comparing the % change in their incomes since 1970. While this is true, it seems somewhat overstated to say they fared worse given that even with smaller % increases, men’s income in general is still significantly higher than women’s.
UPDATE: Reader Philip Cohen adds some more context to this on his blog, Family Inequality:
It’s not clear how to assess the benefits – or losses – that men derive from all this. That recliner-king image assumes that employed wives still do the unpaid work of the household, but the best predictor of how much housework a woman does may be her own income.
That’s why I don’t buy this:
“When you think about it from a guy’s perspective, marriage wasn’t such a great deal,” says Richard Fry of the Pew Research Center. “It raised a household size, but it didn’t bring in a lot more income.”
What about the value of all that work the stay-at-home wife did? Maybe it was more inefficient, but the report also shows with survey data on decision-making, wives get more say-so when they earn more – the price a “recliner king” pays, willingly or not.