When Equality Is Not Enough: An Examination of Changes in Relative Earnings over the Duration of Marriage

Tara L. Becker, University of Wisconsin at Madison

Relative earnings relationships have long played a central role in theories of the family. This study uses data from the 1969-1997 waves of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to examine how relative earnings relationships change over time. Using cohort life table methods, I compare the stability of relative earnings across marriage cohorts by following couples forward through time from the first year of marriage. The results show considerable change in relative earnings over the duration of marriage, regardless of initial relative earnings. Earnings relationships in which the wife earns at least 60% of the couple’s earnings are the most likely to change over time, and couples are least likely to enter this type of earnings relationship when their relative earnings change. Differences across relative earnings groups, however, narrowed over time as husband sole-earner earnings relationships became less stable and other relative earnings relationships became more stable.

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Presented in Session 47: Gender, Labor Force and Earnings