Economist: Men and marriage
Women’s higher earnings seem to benefit husbands as much as wives.
IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that a married woman in possession of a large fortune will probably spend most of it on her husband and children. That seems to be the conclusion of a study* by the Pew Research Centre in Washington, DC, of the lives of Americans aged 30-44, those most likely to have young families. Whereas in earlier generations marriage allowed women to achieve economic security, now, it appears, men are more likely to benefit.
The root cause is the spread of women’s higher education. For the first time in American history there are more female than male college graduates among this age group. In contrast, in 1970, almost twice as many men as women in this group, 30-44, had college degrees. The result is that in the half of households where one partner has more education, it is now more likely to be the wife who has more. In 1970, it was usually the husband.
Income tends to rise with education, and women’s earnings have risen relative to men’s at every level of schooling. Men’s income is still, on average, higher, but women have been narrowing the gap and adding more to household earnings. A few wives contributed more than their men: in 1970 only 4% earned more than their husbands; in 2007 22% did.
That represented a rise in social mobility. But with it went an apparent decline in another aspect of mobility: more people seem to be marrying within their education and income bracket, especially at the top. The best educated and highest-earning husbands in 2007 were more likely to have the highest-income wives than was the case in 1970. At the bottom of the education heap, too, men are less likely to have wives who earn a lot. Forty years ago, half of husbands who dropped out of high school had wives who earned more than the average for women; now just 30% do.
That is an exception to the rule that, as the report says, “the economic gains from marriage have accrued more to men than to women.” But there is one other way in which the growing economic clout of women increases their power within marriage. According to Pew, in households where the husband earns more, women are still just as likely to make the final decisions regarding household finances; where the wife earns more, she is more than twice as likely to do so.