Working Women

UMass economics professor Nancy Folbre argues in the New York Times that among married couples, wives have been less hard hit by the economic downturn, thus helping somewhat to shield those couples from deeper suffering during the recession. She notes a recent paper by Kristen Smith that points out that employed women now account for 47% of their families' income -- the highest level ever. Married mothers of children are also contributing their highest ever level to household earnings, but, likely due to the pressures of child care, they still contribute just 40% of household earnings.

Two reasons account for this increase in wives' contributions to household earnings. First, traditionally female jobs have weathered the recession better than traditionally male jobs. Second, in contrast to earlier recessions where the duration of unemployment was typically much shorter and where family assets like the home were increasing rather than decreasing in value, women are more likely to enter the workforce when their husbands lose their jobs. While increasing contributions by married women have sheltered families to some extent, women still tend to work at lower-paying jobs (with full-time employed women earning just 83% of what full-time employed males do) and haven't made-up the decline in their husband's earnings,.
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