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Families rely on wives’ income more than ever, study reveals

Friday, December 7, 2012  
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Despite the end of the Great Recession, American families’ reliance on the income of wives is at record levels, with employed wives’ contribution to total family income holding steady at 47 percent, according to new research from The Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

The massive job losses during the 18 months of the Great Recession, primarily in male-dominated industries such as manufacturing and construction, coupled with sluggish job growth during the recovery, have left many families with lower earnings and have placed an unprecedented impor­tance on wives’ earnings to keep families afloat, according to "Recessions Accelerate Trend of Wives as Breadwinners.”

From 2008 to 2009, employed wives’ contributions to total family earnings jumped from 45 percent to 47 percent – the largest single-year increase during the past 23 years – where it held steady in 2010 and 2011.

"If history is a good guide, it is likely that wives’ share of total family earnings will not return to pre-recession levels, but rather, the Great Recession will serve to propel wives’ contributions higher,” according to Kristin Smith, family demographer with the Carsey Institute. "It is likely that wives will remain in the labor force even after their husbands return to work, as many families have lost ground due to diminished savings, housing values and retirement accounts. It is critical to pay attention to the implications of wives as breadwinners for families and the workplace.”

Working families were already under stress before the recession from increased time spent working, inflexible workplaces that have not kept pace with changing families and the lack of policy supports, the study noted.

"Policies to support working families, such as paid sick leave and paid family medical leave, affordable quality child care, livable wages, and measures that increase workplace flexibility, could help reduce the work and family conflict that many men and women experience,” Smith said. "In addition, there is an obvious need for continued job creation, continued support for long-term unemployment and expanded public assistance and food stamps to help families during this economic recovery.”  

Complete report 

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