Earlier research showed an added-worker effect for wives when their husbands stopped working during the Great Recession (December 2007–June 2009) but not when husbands stopped working in recent years of prosperity (2004–2005). By including one recession per decade for the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, this article builds upon that research by using Current Population Survey data to compare wives’ labor force responses to their husbands stopping work across three recessions to determine whether wives’ employment responses during the Great Recession differed from those during earlier recessions. Additionally, we hypothesize motivations for wives entering the labor force and consider the occupations they enter. Across all three recessions included in this study, wives entered the labor force more often when their husband stopped working. More nuanced analyses show that during both the Great Recession and the 1990–1991 recession, wives were more likely to seek work and find a job if their husband became not employed, while in the 1981–1982 recession wives were more likely to seek work but less likely to find a job. We also find that wives who started a job during the Great Recession or the 1990–1991 recession were more likely to enter service occupations than professional or managerial occupations, but this was not the case during the 1981–1982 recession. Furthermore, during the three recessions, college-educated wives who started a job were more likely than wives with less education to enter professional and managerial occupations relative to service occupations or other occupations. However, these newly employed college-educated wives were somewhat more likely to enter service or other occupations than their college-educated counterparts who were employed continuously.

Publication Date


Journal Title

Monthly Labor Review


United States Department of Labor: Bureaau of Labor Statistics

Document Type