A new study from Georgia State University found that the traditional view that men make more in marriage may be outdated — and might even be making people less happy than they could be.
Over the last 20 years, family well-being grew fastest when wives earned higher wages their husbands, economists at Georgia State University found.
The rise in satisfaction outpaced other arrangements, including when the husband earned more and if both spouses made the same amount.
The study, which was recently published by the Review of Economics on the Household, took a special look at the relative earnings of husbands and wives. Same-sex couples were not included in the study.
Authors Julie Hotchkiss and Robert Moore, along with co-authors Fernando Rios-Avila and Melissa Trussell, used data from the Department of Labor to compute their findings.
“Our research examines the trade-off between pay and leisure time. When wages go up, people make adjustments to their leisure time. Many decide they don’t need to work as many hours. Others decide to work more,” said Moore. “How much time you spend away from work, and how much you’re paid, contribute to your happiness.”
During the 1990s, the researchers found that families where one spouse made more than the other gained much more family satisfaction than when both sposes made the same amount of money.
In the 2000s, the trends switched — families where women earned more than their husbands were happier than families where both earned the same amount, which were even happier than when the husband earned more.
“This finding was not surprising, as the 2007-2009 recession was known for its disproportionate impact on industries in which men are over-represented,” said Hotchkiss. “The smaller welfare gains among these families could derive from the husband not realizing his full potential in the labor market or from suffering larger wage declines than his wife.”
The trend appears to track with continued changes in the economy, which began adjusting to a flood of new female workers in the 60s and 70s, up to now. In 1994, only 16 percent of wives earned more than their husbands. Now at least one in five do.
“We also see in our data a phenomenon identified by others,” said Moore. “There’s a steep drop in the share of families right at the point where wives contribute more than half of the family’s earned income. This ‘cliff’ shows there’s still a strong social preference for husband/wife pairs in which husbands earn more than their wives.”
That means that even though people still seem to like the idea of the husband being the breadwinner, the researcher’s findings show that it might be leaving couples less satisfied than they could be.