Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

When She Earns More Than He Does: A Longitudinal Study of Dual-Earner Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

When She Earns More Than He Does: A Longitudinal Study of Dual-Earner Couples

Article excerpt

Key Words: dual-earner couples, gender-role ideology, hierarchical linear modeling, longitudinal studies, marital-- role quality, salary.

In a random sample of 286 full-time-employed dual-earner couples, we tested 3 competing hypotheses: when wives earn more than their husbands, (a) each partner's marital-role quality (MRQ) decreases; (b) his MRQ increases, whereas effects on her MRQ are mixed; and (c) relationships vary with gender-role beliefs (i.e., gender-role ideology and subjective rewards of salary). We conceptualized salary as a couple-level predictor with 4 components, 2 time varying and 2 time invariant, and estimated the relationship between 2 time-varying components and MRQ. Women's MRQ was not significantly related to change in relative earnings. However, among men, the relationship varied by salary rewards.

One of the most dramatic recent changes in the American workforce is the preponderance of dualearner couples. It is estimated that 78% of workers are married to employed spouses, and in 75% of these dual-earner couples, both spouses are employed full-time (Bond, Galinsky, & Swanberg, 1998). As of 1997, about 23% of women in dualearner couples were earning as much as or more than their husbands (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1997). Although certain stress-related work-family issues confronting dual-earner couples have received considerable research attention (e.g., workfamily conflict), others, such as what happens when she earns more than he earns, have not. There is considerable interest within both sociology and psychology in the relationship between earnings and such outcomes as marital quality, satisfaction, power, and disruption within couples.

Now that the prevalence of dual-earner couples is high enough to permit study in random samples and with the availability of longitudinal couple data and statistical techniques for modeling change over time within couples (Barnett & Brennan, 1997; James, Barnett, & Brennan, 1998; Raudenbush, Barnett, & Brennan, 1995), we have the opportunity to estimate the relationship between change over time in earnings and change over time in marital outcomes. In this analysis, we use longitudinal data from a random sample of 286 full-time-employed dual-earner couples to address two major questions: (a) what is the relationship between relative earnings over time and change over time in his evaluation of his marital-role quality (MRQ) and (b) what is the relationship between relative earnings over time and change over time in her MRQ? In addition, given attitudinal changes toward increased egalitarianism in gender-role ideology (GRI), especially among men in dual-earner couples (Bond et al., 1998), and changes in male and female identification with the provider role (Hood, 1986; Potuchek, 1997), we estimated the within-couple relationships between earnings and MRQ over time in the context of these two attitudes.


Sociologists and psychologists have been interested in the within-couple relationship between earnings (absolute and relative) and marital outcomes. Researchers within each discipline tend to focus on different outcomes, with corresponding differences in the unit of analysis and in the proposed underlying processes and moderators. Within family sociology, effects of gender-role reversal in earnings are treated by dominant theories of marital stability and disruption; within psychology, these effects are treated primarily by theories addressing marital quality and its correlates (e.g., division of household and child care labor, marital power and equality). Marital disruption requires a couple-level unit of analysis, whereas marital quality outcomes may be studied at the individual level (Heckert, Nowak, & Snyder, 1998).

Family sociologists tend to work within a functionalist framework, focusing on gender-role specialization and role complementarity within marital dyads. Psychologists also address gender roles but primarily from the perspective of gender-role identity theory, which locates the critical underlying processes linking relative earnings to marital outcomes within individuals. …

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