The recession is amplifying a long-run trend of women’s earnings becoming more and more important to their family’s economic well-being. Between 1980 and 2006, the share of total family income brought home by a working wife has risen from 26.7 to 35.6 percent. Indeed, among married couples, only those with two earners have seen their inflation-adjusted family income grow since the 1970s.
Back in reality, families have needed mom’s earnings for quite some time. We didn’t want to admit it because in doing so, we’d have to finally address how we were going to deal with all the things she used to do for us—for free—before she had a day job. And we’d need to make sure that she was paid fairly on the job.
But now, this recession may allow our economic structures to catch up to the reality that families face every day. While there’s nothing good about higher unemployment, it is giving million of families someone with the time to turn that “second shift” into a first shift and assist the breadwinning wives. That’s the silver lining that may help families survive these difficult times.
But even if women's incomes are becoming more important to families, they are still earning less than their male counterparts, earning somewhere arounda three-quarters of their male counterparts in the same jobs. Legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act is designed to redress some of these inequalies.