How Dual Are Dual-Income Couples? Documenting Change From 1970 to 2001

S B. Raley, University of Maryland - College Park
Marybeth Mattingly, University of New Hampshire - Main Campus
S M. Bianchi, University of Maryland - College Park


Using Current Population Survey data for 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2001 (N =73,001), we document change in the prevalence of couples where (a) the wife contributes less than 40% of the family income, (b) income contributions are relatively equal, and (c) the wife's income contribution surpasses her husband's contribution. In 1970, close to 90% of couples had conventional earning arrangements: The husband was the sole provider in 56% of couples and contributed 60% or more of the income in an additional 31% of couples. By 2001, husbands were still the sole (25%) or major provider (39%) in a majority (64%) of couples but wives shared equally in providing income in 24% of couples, more than double the 9% in 1970. Additionally, wives as primary (or sole) earners increased from 4% to 12%. We investigate the associations between income provisioning within dual-income families and ongoing cohort replacement by younger couples, women's increased human capital, life course processes, couple's labor supply, and race. Our findings suggest that wives’ increased human capital and couple's labor supply were strongly associated with increased female breadwinning patterns, but age cohort replacement processes and life stage factors also played a role in explaining change over time.