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Women out-earning, out-learning men in more couples

A Pew Research Center study finds that 22% of wives make more money than their husbands, and 28% have more education. Researchers say marriage may be a path to economic stability for men.

January 20, 2010|By Nicole Santa Cruz

Bringing home the bacon is less and less a man's job these days.

According to a Pew Research Center study released Tuesday, a larger share of men are married to women whose education and income exceed their own.

In 1970, 4% of husbands had wives who made more money than they did. In 2007, that share rose to 22%.

"As women have made these extraordinary gains in working and education, men have been able to share in these gains through marriage," said D'Vera Cohn, a senior writer with Pew and a coauthor of the study.

Marriage could be a man's path to economic stability, she said. "Now with so many women working and achieving higher income, it's increasingly a way for men to achieve economic security," Cohn said. "In that way, the genders are a little more similar than they were a few decades ago."

Among married couples, 28% of the wives had more education than their husbands in 2007, compared with 20% in 1970.

Kathleen Gerson, a professor of sociology at New York University, said the study's findings weren't surprising, especially given the higher share of jobs lost in male-dominated fields during this recession -- "man-cession," she called it.

"The recession didn't pause this gender revolution," she said. "It's made it clear that it's here to stay."

Overall, however, the incomes of women as a group still trailed those of men, said Heather Boushey, a senior economist with the Center for American Progress, a Washington-based think tank. In 2008, women earned 77 cents for every dollar a male earned, she said. "We haven't closed the gender gap, but there has been a closing," Boushey said.

The report, compiled from census data of U.S.-born men and women from ages 30 to 44, found that the age group is the first in U.S. history to include more women than men with college degrees.

In 1970, 64% of college graduates in that group were men and 36% were women. In 2007, 46.5% of the college graduates were men and 53.5% were women.

Cohn said that women's economic and educational advances had given them more influence within marriage.

But that hasn't necessarily translated into a more equal division of labor at home.

Tamar Kremer-Sadlik, the director of research for the Center on Everyday Lives of Families at UCLA, recently completed a study in which she looked at 30 heterosexual couples and marital satisfaction.

In marriages in which women earned more than their husbands, she found that men didn't necessarily contribute more to the household.

She added, however, that more satisfying marriages tended to be based not on dividing labor by who made more, but on a flexibility and working together for a common cause. "It's not so much a sense of tit for tat as much as a sense of 'we are together working toward taking care of our home,' " she said.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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