Last updated at 4:19 PM on 7th March 2012
The number of wives earning more than their husbands has been increasing for years with the pace accelerated further by the recession, according to a survey.
Nearly 38 percent of wives earned more than their husbands in 2009, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, up about 3 percent from 2008.
Julee Schirmacher, 29, is one such wife who earns more than her husband as he searches for work and looks after the couple’s two young children.
Schirmacher, who works full time for a marketing company, told Life Inc. that she ‘constantly’ worries about money since her husband lost his job as a property manager last September.
As Schirmacher’s case shows, in some cases women are earning more than their spouses not because they are getting ahead but after their husband has experienced a setback.
‘Ideally, I would like us just to be working and in stable jobs,’ Schirmacher told Life Inc. ‘I don’t need to make a $100,000-a-year salary. I just want to be able to make money to be able to pay my bills on time, pay for the school for my kids. I just want to be able to have, like, nice Christmases with them.’
Recently promoted, Schirmacher has been working long hours, which means she doesn’t always spend much time with her children while her husband is feeling the frustration of not being able to land a new job.
Surviving on just one income, the couple from Philadelphia struggle to save money and recently had to borrow money to pay for a major car repair.
Indeed, the BLS figures include families in which the husband may not be working at all. Looking at families where both husband and wife are working, 28.9 percent of wives earned more than their husbands in 2009, an increase from 26.6 percent in 2008.
Mary Gatta, a senior scholar with the advocacy and research organization Wider Opportunities for Women, said it’s hard to say exactly what is behind the trend.
‘The recession is a significant factor here in that during the recession we saw higher numbers of men lose their jobs,’ Gatta told Life Inc.
The official period of economic contraction, from December 2007 to June 2009, was so hard on men that some people dubbed it the ‘mancession’ because so many men lost their jobs.
However, in the years of weak economic recovery that followed, women were harder hit while men started to gain jobs again. The trend appears to have started to even out in recent months.
Still, Gatta noted, that there are other, longer-term factors at work. For example, women have been graduating from college at higher rates than men for years and workers with a college degree generally have higher earnings potential than those without one.
‘It’s more than just the recession,’ Gatta said.
In general, women’s earnings have become a much more intrinsic part of a family’s financial well-being over the past few decades, said Ellen Galinsky, co-founder of the Families and Work Institute.
Her research from 2008 found that in dual-earning households, women were contributing about 45 percent of a family’s income on average.
However, even in the families where wives make more than their husbands, she notes, many are struggling to get by – whether they have one or two salaries.
‘We have an image of (the wives) being the CEO of Xerox or something,’ Galinsky said.
In fact, she said, many families in which both spouses work are in lower income brackets.
Galinsky expects that women’s earnings will continue to be key to many family’s financial survival.
‘My view about the recession is that … it didn’t shift the course,’ she said. ‘It accelerated the course we were already on.’