Journal of Family and Economic Issues

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 367–382

Household Headship Among Married Women: The Roles of Economic Power, Education, and Convention

  • Ann E. Biddlecom
  • Ellen A. Kramarow


Household headship historically has been equated with being the main economic provider of the household, a position usually occupied by men. This paper uses a change in the United States Census definition of household headship to examine whether headship for married women is associated with being the primary breadwinner in a marriage versus other non-economic explanations. According to microdata from the 1990 United States Census, women who are the main income providers in a marriage are much more likely to be household heads than women in co-provider marriages. There also is support for an egalitarian ideology explanation; that is, when both spouses are highly educated, the wife is more likely than the husband to be household head net of her relative economic independence in that marriage. Yet the force of convention remains strong given the low prevalence of headship among married women. The new census definition was meant partly to reflect the changing economic status of women. However, the reality is that conventional gender behaviors persist in household headship.

household headship marriage United States Census 


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Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ann E. Biddlecom
    • 1
  • Ellen A. Kramarow
    • 2
  1. 1.Population CouncilNew YorkUnited States
  2. 2.National Center for Health StatisticsHyattsvilleUnited States

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