Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Changes in Wives' Income: Effects on Marital Happiness, Psychological Well-Being, and the Risk of Divorce

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Changes in Wives' Income: Effects on Marital Happiness, Psychological Well-Being, and the Risk of Divorce

Article excerpt

We investigate the effects of increases in married women's actual income and in their proportion of total family income on marital happiness, psychological well-being, and the likelihood of divorce. We use data from a sample of 1,047 married individuals (not couples) in medium-duration marriages, drawn from a five-wave panel survey begun in 1980 and continuing to 1997. Structural equation modeling is used to assess the impact of increases in married women's absolute and relative income from 1980 to 1988 on the marital happiness and well-being of married men and women in 1988. Event history analysis is used to determine how these changes affect the risk of divorce between 1988 and 1997. We find that increases in married women's absolute and relative income significantly increase their marital happiness and well-being. Increases in married women's absolute income generally have nonsignificant effects for married men. However, married men's wellbeing is significantly lower when married wom

en's proportional contributions to the total family income are increased. The likelihood of divorce is not significantly affected by increases in married women's income. Nevertheless, increases in married women's income may indirectly lower the risk of divorce by increasing women's marital happiness.

Key Words: divorce, marital quality, married women's income.

How are wives' income and marriage related? Much previous research in this area has focused on how married women's income affects various dimensions of marital quality and stability (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Booth, Johnson, White, & Edwards, 1984). Many of these studies suggest that an increase in wives' income elevates marital discord and the risk of divorce (Heidemann, Suhomlinova, & O'Rand, 1998; Moore & Waite, 1981). However, in an earlier article based on longitudinal data, we found no evidence that increases in married women's income undermined marital quality. Instead, married women appeared to increase their income in response to long-term declines in marital quality (Rogers, 1999). In the research presented here, we extend our understanding of these processes by considering what happens to the same individuals and their marriages at a later point in time. We address three central questions: How does an increase in married women's income affect (a) the subsequent marital happiness of married women and men, (b) their subsequent psychological well-being, and (c) the risk of divorce?


Although scholars and the public alike are familiar with trends in married women's labor-force participation (Spain & Bianchi, 1996), the extent of their economic contributions to families may be less well known. Many men, particularly those who are young, who are of color, and who have less than a college education, have seen declines in their economic prospects in the last 30 years. However, women's economic prospects have generally improved regardless of education level or marital status (Farley, 1996; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998). During the 1980s, wives' proportional contributions to total family income increased as more wives entered the labor force (Spain & Bianchi, 1996). During the 1990s, married couples with two earners were one fourth as likely to be poor as similar couples with only a male earner (Cattan, 1998). Although the earnings gap remains, it has narrowed during the 1980s and 1990s (Spain & Bianchi, 1996). This trend toward more substantial economic contributions by increasing numbers of married women makes the relationship between wives' income and marital quality and stability particularly important.


What happens in marriages in which wives have increased their income? Does subsequent marital happiness improve or worsen? Does the psychological well-being of husbands and wives increase or decline? Does the risk of divorce increase, or is it lessened? …

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