, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 523–535 | Cite as

Wives who outearn their husbands: A transitory or persistent phenomenon for couples?

  • Anne E. Winkler
  • Timothy D. McBride
  • Courtney Andrews


In what percentage of married couples do wives outearn their husbands, and, moreover, how persistent are these patterns? This study systematically examined variation in point-in-time estimates across alternative measures of earnings, definitions of types of couples, and data sources and gauged the persistence of these patterns for a period of three calendar years using data from the 2000 Current Population Survey and the 1996–2000 Survey of Income and Program Participation. Among the findings are that in 19% to 30% of all married couples, wives have higher earnings than their husbands. In 60% of such couples, this arrangement persists over the three-year period; for the rest, this arrangement is transitory.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bittman, M., P. England, N. Folbre, L. Sayer, and G. Matheson. 2003. “When Does Gender Trump Money? Bargaining and Time in Household Work.” American Journal of Sociology 109: 186–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blumberg, R. and M. Tolbert Coleman. 1989. “A Theoretical Look at the Gender Balance of Power in the American Couple.” Journal of Family Issues 10:225–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brennan, R.T., R. Chait Barnett, and K.C. Gareis. 2001. “When She Earns More Than He Does: A Longitudinal Study of Dual-Earner Couples.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 63:168–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brines, J. 1994. “Economic Dependency, Gender, and the Division of Labor at Home.” American Journal of Sociology 100:652–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Butrica, B.A., H.M. Iams, and S.H. Sandell. 1999. “Using Data for Couples to Project the Distributional Effects of Changes in Social Security Policy.” Social Security Bulletin 62(3):2–27.Google Scholar
  6. Choi, N.G. 1999. “Racial Differences in the Contribution of Wife’s Earnings to Family Income Distribution.” Journal of Poverty 3(3):33–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Freeman, R.B. 2000. “The Feminization of Work in the U.S.: A New Era for (Man)kind?” Pp. 3–22 in Gender and the Labor Market: Econometric Evidence on Obstacles in Achieving Gender Equality, edited by S. Gustafsson and D. Meulders. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  8. Hayghe, H.V. 1993. “Working Wives’ Contributions to Family Incomes.” Monthly Labor Review 116(8):39–43.Google Scholar
  9. Hood, J.C. 1986. “The Provider Role: Its Meaning and Measurement. Journal of Marriage and the Family 48:349–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Juhn, C., K.M. Murphy, and R. Topel. 2002. “Current Unemployment, Historically Contemplated.” Prepared for the Brookings Panel on Economic Activity, April 4–5.Google Scholar
  11. Lerman, R.I. 1997. “Is Earnings Inequality Really Increasing?” Policy brief. No. 1 in Series, Economic Restructuring and the Job Market. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.Google Scholar
  12. Lundberg, S.J., R.A. Pollak, and T.J. Wales. 1997. “Do Husbands and Wives Pool Their Resources?” Journal of Human Resources 32:463–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Nock, S. 2001. “The Marriages of Equally Dependent Spouses.” Journal of Family Issues 22: 755–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Oppenheimer, V. Kincade. 1997. “Women’s Employment and the Gain to Marriage: The Specialization and Trading Model.” Annual Review of Sociology 23:431–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Raley, S.B., M.J. Mattingly, and S.M. Bianchi. Forthcoming. “How Dual Are Dual-Income Couples? Documenting Change From 1970 to 2001.” Journal of Marriage and the Family.Google Scholar
  16. Roemer, M.I. 2000. “Assessing the Quality of the March Current Population Survey and the Survey of Income and Program Participation Income Estimates, 1990–1996.” Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  17. Sayer, L. and S.M. Bianchi. 2000. “Women’s Economic Independence and the Probability of Divorce.” Journal of Family Issues 21:906–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Schultz, T.P. 1997. “Demand for Children in Low Income Countries.” Chap. 6 in Handbook of Population and Family Economics, Volume 1A, edited by M.R. Rosenzweig and O. Stark. Amsterdam: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  19. Sorensen, A. and S. McLanahan. 1987. “Married Women’s Economic Dependency.” American Journal of Sociology 93:659–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Stratton, L.S. 2001. “Why Does More Housework Lower Women’s Wages? Testing Hypotheses Involving Job Effort and Hours Flexibility.” Social Science Quarterly 82:67–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Weismantle, M. 2001. “Reasons People Do Not Work.” Current Population Reports P70–76. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  22. U.S. Census Bureau. 2004. “Historical Income Tables—Families.” Table F-22. Available on-line at http://hhes/income/histinc/f22.htmlGoogle Scholar
  23. Winkler, A.E. 1998. “Earnings of Husbands and Wives in Dual-Earner Families.” Monthly Labor Review (April):42–48.Google Scholar
  24. Winkler, A.E. and D.C. Rose. 2000. “Career Hierarchy in Dual-Earner Families.” Pp. 147–72 in Research in Labor Economics, edited by S. Polachek. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anne E. Winkler
    • 1
  • Timothy D. McBride
    • 2
  • Courtney Andrews
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of Missouri-St. LouisSt. Louis
  2. 2.School of Public HealthSt. Louis UniversityUSA

Personalised recommendations