NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Affluent Working Wives

June 15, 1998

Wives whose husbands are medium- or high-wage earners are more likely to enter the workforce than the spouses of men who make low wages, according to research by economists Chinhui Juhn of the University of Houston and Kevin M. Murphy of the University of Chicago.

  • The researchers found that wives of husbands whose wages were in the bottom 20 percent of earners enjoyed the fastest rates of employment growth in the 1960s -- at a time when the husbands' wages were growing by 42 percent.
  • But as their husbands' earnings fell sharply over the next two decades, the entry into the workforce of the wives of the lowest earners slowed substantially.
  • By contrast, wives of men with average and high earnings accelerated their entry into the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s.
  • The biggest gains occurred among those whose husbands' earnings were in the top 20 percent of the income range.

The researchers note that the wives of high-earning men tend to be highly educated. Growing demand and rising wages for highly skilled workers of both sexes are the likely factor luring them into the job market.

Source: Gene Koretz, "Just Why Do Wives Work?" Business Week, June 15, 1998.


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