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A trend with legs: Women as breadwinners

A disproportionate number of the 7 million jobs wiped out by the recession were held by men.

By Karen Datko Oct 22, 2009 7:28PM

A recent column by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker convinced us that "the new frugality" won't last once good times return (and is probably just a figment of our imaginations anyway). Let's finally put that discussion to rest. (We will. See below.)


But there is a trend the Great Recession has inadvertently gifted with real staying power: It's more common that American women are the co- or often leading source of income for their families, i.e., they're making more than their husbands.

"The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything" says:

Today, four in five families with children still at home are not the traditional male breadwinner, female homemaker. And women are increasingly becoming their family’s breadwinner or co-breadwinner. The deep economic downturn is amplifying and accelerating this trend.

And it also looks like many folks are getting used to the idea. A survey done for the Shriver Report shows that "65.3% of women and 61.2% of men strongly agreed with the idea that they are comfortable with women earning more than men in a household," Allison Linn reported in a story at MSNBC.


More stats:

  • In households where both spouses worked in 2007, nearly 26% of the women had a bigger paycheck, Allison said.  It was 17.8% about 20 years ago.
  • Also, according to the Shriver Report, 38% of working wives in 2008 made as much or more than their husbands. (To quickly review some of the detailed charts from the report, see this Economix post at The New York Times.)
  • Nearly 75% of the 7 million jobs that have disappeared during the recession were held by men.

Before you think that gender equality has arrived, Allison also wrote, "Although women make up virtually 50% of the workforce, the typical full-time female worker is still making just 77% for every dollar a man makes." (Our emphasis.)


Catherine Rampell added at Economix, "Bear in mind, though, that much of the gap in wages today can still be explained by factors such as occupational choice and experience."


Many of the women interviewed by Allison are comfortable with their husbands being stay-at-home dads with the kids, but they are sad about missing so much of the child-rearing experience. That's got to be tough.


But, you know, it's progress when women can make decent money and have more options. It wasn't always like that. 


"I'm very glad I didn't listen to all those teachers in the '70s (who said), 'Oh, don't worry, your husband will take care of you. Oh, don't worry about getting an education,'" Beth Klingensmith, a 45-year-old primary breadwinner in Colorado, told Allison.


How many of you out there can relate to that? We can.


A bit more about that new frugality: This recession has been tough, but isn't anything like the Great Depression, James Surowiecki wrote. "What's more, the notion that the Depression turned Americans into tightwads is largely a myth," he said.


But what about all the spending that people say they've sworn off? "Even after the worst recession of the past 70 years, retail sales this year will be about where they were in 2005," James said. "Does anyone really think that four years ago Americans were misers?"


Case closed.


Related reading:

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