Economic Recession Forces More Wives To Reenter The Workforce

September 28, 2010

Working mom with child in her armsDue to the financial crisis and recession, many men, oftentimes their household's sole wage earner, have lost their jobs and remain unemployed. Consequently, increasing numbers of wives have entered or returned to the workforce to support their families. Despite women now comprising nearly half of the country's employed, they still earn less and hold fewer management positions than men.

"They have to work. As families lose their primary breadwinner, they're making ends meet with a lower-earning spouse," says Kristin E. Smith, a researcher at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Smith and Marybeth J. Mattingly, recently published a study on their findings in September's Family Relations journal, reports DailyFinance. The two found that during a recession, women are more likely to seek work when their husbands stop working than beforehand.

Without question, the souring economy hit men hard. For example, they held more than 71 percent of the jobs lost in devastated sectors like construction and manufacturing, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Today, 9.8 percent of the country's males, and 8 percent of its females, are jobless.

Although the difference between men and women's salaries has shrunk over the years, men are still paid more than women across the board. The median weekly earnings for men in the second quarter of 2010 was 17 percent higher than for women, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. In 2009, women earned 80.2 cents for every dollar men earned, up from 62.3 cents in 1979, according to The New York Times. In terms of full-time managers' wages, women earned 81 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earned in 2007, the latest year for which comprehensive data is available, a recent Government Accountability Office report shows. This figure reflects a 2-cent increase from 2000.

Even before the economic downturn, women made little progress ascending into management positions, according to report findings. Women comprised about 40 percent of managers in the U.S. workforce in 2007, up 1 percent from 2000. In all but three of the 13 industries the report addressed, women accounted for a smaller share of management positions than of each industry's total labor force. The exceptions were construction, public administration, and transportation and utilities.

Smith and Mattingly's findings suggest that the recession sped up a trend emerging over many decades--that gender roles in the family are changing, reports DailyFinance. Wendy Kaufman, who teaches New Yorkers how to juggle work and family life, in her role as Balancing Life's Issues' chief executive, has noticed increasing numbers of men attending her seminars.

Once the economy turns around, the women whom the recession forced into the labor market likely won't leave it, per Bloomberg Businessweek. The reasons why include withered retirement accounts, decreased housing values, the potential for increased taxes, and stunted wage growth for both genders.

Compiled by CityTownInfo.com Staff


"More Wives Head For Work," businessweek.com, September 23, 2010, Diane Brady.

"People(at)Work: Recession Swells The Ranks Of Breadwinner Wives," dailyfinance.com, September 20, 2010, David Schepp.

"Still Few Women In Management, Report Says," nytimes.com, September 27, 2010, Catherine Rampell.

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