Wives gain as breadwinners but no real progress

Tue Oct 5, 2010 4:45pm EDT
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By Lynn Adler

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Women were winners in the U.S. recession, as wives' income jumped to a record share of family earnings. But it was only by default.

Wives earned 47 percent of family income in 2009, up from 45 percent the previous year, not because their salaries rose but because more of their husbands lost jobs, according to a study from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

"Make no mistake: this increase is not due to advancement or opportunities for women, but rather it is an indication of hard financial times for families," said Kristin Smith, a family demographer at the Institute.

Women weren't getting higher wages during the recession. The median wages of employed wives fell to $30,000 in 2009 from $31,041 two years earlier. The median income of husbands with employed wives fell in that time to $42,000 from $46,562.

Instead, the economy shed more male-dominated jobs such as in construction and manufacturing, which left wives earning more of the family take-home pay, the report said.

"As husbands lose their jobs, family earnings plummet, and the role of wives' earnings often becomes critical to keeping families afloat," said Smith.

Almost half of the relative gains that wives made over the past 15 years in bringing home the bacon came during the recession from 2007 to 2009. Their increased earnings share last year was the biggest single-year jump in 15 years.

U.S. unemployment topped 10 percent at its peak before trending down to 9.6 percent in August. That rate will rise to 9.7 percent in September, according to a Reuters survey.   Continued...

<p>A woman shops in at a Sam's Club in a file photo. REUTERS/Sarah Conard</p>