photo via Pixabay
photo via Pixabay

Why are families less economically secure today? After all, there’s been four decades of families seeming to have the opportunity to earn more and do better—this largely due to women’s movement into the U.S. workforce. According to a new report, women’s increased earnings and hours have been vital in the American family’s search for economic security. How has that search gone? Heather Boushey and Kavya Vaghul’s new report “Women have made the difference for family economic security” offers some answers.

Boushey, Executive Director and Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and research team member Vaghul used data from the Current Population survey to focus on changes in family income between 1979 and 2013 for low-, middle-, and professional-income families. They delved into the difference between men’s and women’s earnings regarding greater pay, as well as women’s earning as a function of more hours worked. They also looked at other sources of income between 1979 and 2013.

Boushey and Vaghul had three main findings:

  • Low income families lost, while middle income and professional families gained. “Between 1979 and 2013, on average, low-income families in the United States saw their incomes fall by 2.0 percent. Middle-income families, however, saw their incomes grow by 12.4 percent, and professional families saw their incomes rise by 48.8 percent.”
  • In all social classes, women’s hours of paid work increased. “Over the same time period, the average woman in the United States saw her annual working hours increase by 26.4 percent. This trend was similar across low-income, middle-class, and professional families.”
  • Women’s contributions saved the day for low and middle income families. “Across all three income groups, women significantly helped family incomes both because they earned more per hour and worked more per year. Women’s contributions saved low-income and middle-class families from steep drops in their income.”

What about men? Between 1979 and 2013 men’s earnings fell while women increased both their working hours and pay per hour. That made women’s growing movement into the workforce even more important. Women’s work meant that the average annual income for low income families rose by $1,929, $8,948 for middle-class families, and $20,274 for professional families.

By pointing to women’s dramatic increases in hours worked and wages as well as men’s surprising decline in those same areas, Boushey and Vaghul demonstrate that women’s time at work make all the difference –across all income groups.

It is about finding time. While women’s entry into the workforce has significantly changed the make-up of family incomes, the U.S. still lacks proper policies to make such work manageable for families. The pressure being placed on workers to manage their family while making enough money to support them is examined in detail in Heather Boushey’s new book, Finding Time: The Economics of Work-Life Conflict.

Originally posted May 17, 2016

Molly McNulty is a CCF public affairs intern at Framingham State University. She is a joint Sociology and Education major.