During the Great Recession unemployment among men was particularly high, with 69 percent of the jobs lost held by men. At the Great Recession’s peak overall unemployment was 10.0 percent in October 2009. At that time men’s unemployment was 11.2 percent and women’s at 8.7 percent.
During this time married women stepped up to the plate to help their families cope with the loss of their husbands’ jobs. They not only increased their labor force participation but also increased their hours of paid work.
The Carsey Institute depicts employed wives percent contribution to total family earnings in the following graph. Note the increase in contribution of both employed wives and employed wives with children under 18 to total family earnings at the beginning of Great Recession (gray bar at approximately 2008).
Closer inspection of the graph indicates wives’ contributions to total family income increased in all three recessions since 1988.
The Carsey Institute also found, “Employed wives’ share of total family earnings is higher and more responsive to economic downturns when the husband has a high school degree or less compared with a college degree.” This is demonstrated in the following graph.
The contribution of married women to the economic stability of the family occurs at a time when women employed full time earn on average 77 percent of what corresponding men earn.
Sociologists and psychologists are examining the effect of women’s greater contributions to family income on gender roles. More on that topic in a future post.
Smith, Kristin. (2012). Recessions Accelerate Trend of Wives as Breadwinners. Carsey Institute. Issue Brief No. 56.