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Husbands And Wives: Who Works, Who Doesn't?

Marriage And Work Over Time

In the early 1970s, there was a standard model for married couples where at least one spouse worked full time: In two-thirds of those marriages, the man worked and the woman didn't.

Over the next several decades, that changed dramatically, as more and more women moved into full-time jobs.

By the turn of the century, the standard had reversed: In nearly two-thirds of these marriages, both people worked full time.

But in the past 15 years, not much has changed. The share of two-worker marriages has fallen a bit, as has the total share of Americans who are working. But it seems like we've basically hit a new equilibrium.

Francine Blau, a labor economist who focuses on women and the labor force, says the picture isn't likely to change much — unless men take on a larger share of child care duties or women get more access to things like parental leave and flexible work schedules, which make it easier for women to work full time.

Marriage And Work Across The Income Spectrum

The share of marriages where women work full time but men don't is highest for low-income families.

The story here has as much to do with the decline of working men as it does the progress of women in the economy. In just the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, the manufacturing sector lost an astounding 5 million jobs. Since manufacturing jobs historically have been held predominantly by men, this left lots of men out of work. Women, on the other hand, have benefited from the employment boom in the service sector, which employs more women than men.

High-income families are much more likely than average to have both spouses working full time. The message is pretty clear: It's pretty hard to be rich with only one income.