Dual-Career Families

Dual Career Families are those in which both parties of a married couple are working. For most of the 20th century, men were the traditional breadwinners in a family. But by the time the world entered the 21st century, women had become full partners in earning the upkeep for their families, becoming fulltime participants in the workforce.

This is in direct contrast to the mothers and grandmothers of women today, who tended to receive a truncated education and were in and out of the labor force according to their social station and the individual circumstances of the family. The rise in the number of dual-career couples and the skyrocketing of fulltime employment for women represents a dramatic change in the course of the history of women's employment. The dual-earning couple has become the norm.

At the beginning of the 21st century, 61 percent of all married couples consisted of two earners. In both the working-class and middle-class sectors, employment has become the standard for both genders, even when a couple's children are still quite young. Women want to work for the same reasons as men: they need a regular salary, they receive personal satisfaction from their work and they have a desire to do something meaningful.

Within the United States, dual-career couples are both a reflection and the result of the state of the economy. While the United States remains a powerful element of the world economy, the economy has become far more global. The makeup of the labor force and the nature of work available have also changed. The workforce has gone from being dominated by white males to a state where it includes a growing number of women and racial minorities. There has been a shift from manufacturing to the service industry with more new jobs having been created in that sector. Meantime, there is also a shift from employment in the primary sector to one dominated by the two-tiered market.

Unions were once important for helping workers receive better working conditions and work benefits. Today, the union is less of a force within the work sector. Four out of five businesses today are on the small side and have fewer than 20 employees. These changes in the nature of employment and the makeup of the workforce have pushed the issue of how to address work/family issues and gender equality problems. Some maintain these issues are not the concern of the workplace, but rather of the individual workers to work out on an individual basis with their employers. But any solutions arrived at are usually limited to female workers who are considered especially valuable to their employers, or are won by individual women due to superior powers of negotiation.

There is another point of view that holds that as women become a growing force within the working place, businesses should give consideration to work/family issues in order to foster gender equality within the workplace. In addition, by being sensitive to these issues, employers help their women employees to better fulfill their duties in the office. A family-friendly office is one in which women can be their most productive, pulling their weight to the same extent as male employees. However, at the same time, changes in the economy mean that the office is less amenable to expanding the benefits of employees.

The growing diversity of the workforce means that larger numbers of men are experiencing work/family tensions. Yet women are still at a higher risk for these tensions than their working male counterparts. Some employers fear that hiring more women will force them to offer expanded family benefits. At the same time, employers fear setting a precedent by offering expanded family benefits to women, even where there are fewer women in comparison to men in a given workplace.

Some employers find it less expensive to replace employees who must quit for family reasons rather that assume the costs that come with offering family benefits. Other employers expect a high rate of turnover among their female employees, especially those receiving wages at the lower end of the scale. These employers see female employees as quite replaceable. For all these reasons, workplaces in which there are many female employees are not likely to offer family benefits, such as child care assistance or leave for when children are slightly ill.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Dual-Career Marriage: A System in Transition
Lisa R. Silberstein.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 1992
Dual-Career Couples in the Public Sector: A Management Guide for Human Resource Professionals
Willa M. Bruce; Christine M. Reed.
Quorum Books, 1991
The Minimal Family
Jan E. Dizard; Howard Gadlin.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: "The Dual-Career Family" begins on p. 125
Gender, Migration and the Dual Career Household
Irene Hardill.
Routledge, 2002
Forgotten Families: Ending the Growing Crisis Confronting Children and Working Parents in the Global Economy
Jody Heymann.
Oxford University Press, 2005
Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies, and Bargaining Power
Rhona Mahony.
Basic Books, 1995
Working Wives and Dual-earner Families
Rose M. Rubin; Bobye J. Riney.
Praeger Publishers, 1994
Sharing It All: The Rewards and Struggles of Two-Career Families
Lucia A. Gilbert.
Plenum Press, 1988
Global Dual-Career Couple Mentoring: A Phase Model Approach
Harvey, Michael; Wiese, Danielle.
Human Resource Planning, Vol. 21, No. 2, June 1998
Women's Careers: Pathways and Pitfalls
Suzanna Rose; Laurie Larwood.
Praeger Publishers, 1988
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Husbands' Job Satisfaction and Wives' Income"
Men in Dual-Career Families: Current Realities and Future Prospects
Lucia Albino Gilbert.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1985
Commuter Marriage: Living Together, Apart
Fairlee E. Winfield; Louise Waller.
Columbia University Press, 1985
Women in the United States Military, 1901-1995: A Research Guide and Annotated Bibliography
Vicki L. Friedl.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: "Dual Career Couples/Marriage" begins on p. 144
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