This brief investigates the increased role employed wives played in family economic stability prior to, during, and in the two years after the Great Recession, and makes comparisons to the 1990-1991 and 2001 recessions. Author Kristin Smith reports that employed wives’ contribution to total family earnings jumped to 47 percent in 2009 from 45 percent in 2008—the largest single-year increase during the past twenty-three years—and has held steady at 47 percent in 2010 and 2011. Recessions substantially accelerate the trend of increased reliance on wives’ earnings. In all three recessions since 1988, annual increases in wives’ share of total family earnings rose substantially. Employed wives’ share of total family earnings is higher and more responsive to economic downturns when the husband has a high school degree or less compared with a college degree. The brief uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) from 1989 to 2012.

Publication Date



National Issue Brief No. 56


Durham, N.H. : Carsey Institute, University of New Hampshire

Document Type



Copyright 2012. The Carsey Institute. These materials may be used for the purposes of research, teaching, and private study. For all other uses, contact the copyright holder.





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