Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

A Profile of Husbands in Today's Labor Market

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

A Profile of Husbands in Today's Labor Market

Article excerpt

A profile of husbands in today's labor market

By most measures, married men have always epitomized labor market success. At any time, the vast majority are in the labor force working full-time, and their earnings are generally much higher than those of other major labor force groups. Furthermore, their unemployment rate is usually well below the national average. Despite husbands' relative labor market advantages, the proportion who are labor force participants has been falling for several decades.

Relatively little attention has been focused on husbands' labor force characteristics in recent years, partly because they have been overshadowed by the dramatic labor market developments among women, especially wives. To restore some balance to the analysis of family labor force data, this article discusses the 1987 labor force experience of married men (excluding those not living with their wives) and reviews the long-term downward trend in their labor force participation. The information is based largely on data collected each March in the Current Population Survey (CPS).1

Labor force: husbands versus other men

Three out of five men are husbands. Because they are such a large proportion of all men, aggregate labor force statistics for men usually reflect husbands' experience. However, the labor force characteristics of married men are different from those of other men. (See table 1.) For example, in most age groups, husbands are more likely to be in the labor force. Among men 35 to 44 years old, for instance, husbands' labor force participation rate (96 percent in March 1987) is well above the rate for never-married men (84 percent) and slightly above that for other ever-married men (91 percent).

To a certain extent, education helps explain these differences. For instance, as shown in the following tabulation, husbands in almost all age groups are more likely to have completed high school than their single or other ever-married counterparts and, in most cases, the more years of school completed, the more likely an individual is to be in the labor force.

However, whatever their age group or educational level, husbands are almost invariably more likely to be in the labor force than men in other marital-status categories. This suggests that factors other than education are significant in explaining these labor force participation differences. Indeed, the results of earlier research into the determinants of labor force participation among men ages 25 to 54 showed that even after controlling for variables such as education, experience, other household income, and so forth, a difference between the participation rates of husbands and other men remained.2 This, at least, lends tacit support to the popular notion that the relatively high labor force participation of husbands may be partially motivated by the need to contribute to the economic well-being of their families and by their notions of their family role. (Alternatively, it has also been suggested that the personality characteristics necessary for marital success are also important prerequisites in the decision to participate in the labor market.)3

Not only are husbands more likely to be labor market participants than other men, but they also tend to be more economically successful. Regardless of age, husband' unemployment rates are much lower than the rates for other men. For example, focusing again on the 35-44 age cohort, the unemployment rate for husbands (4.1 percent) was less than half the rates of the other two marital-status groups (table 1).

The comparative economic success of husbands is also evidenced by the fact that employed husbands are more highly concentrated in the higher paying occupational categories. About half of all husbands work in three broad groups: precision production, craft, and repair (21 percent); executive, administrative, and managerial (16 percent); and the professional specialties (13 percent). …

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