Wives' Earnings and the Level and Distribution of married Couples' Earnings in Developed Countries

by Maria Cancian, Robert F. Schoeni

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This study examines the contribution of wives' earnings to the distribution of married couples' earnings in 10 developed countries. There is substantial variation among countries in wives' labor force participation, the relative earnings of husbands and wives, the distribution of earnings, and the correlation of spouses' earnings. Even though these countries differ on these dimensions, wives' earnings mitigate inequality in the earnings of married couples. For the countries the authors analyzed over time, the labor force participation of wives married to high-earning husbands increased more than the labor force participation of wives married to middle-earning men. Despite this trend, the mitigating effect of wives' earnings actually increased slightly in all countries examined. Moreover, all other things equal, the correlation of spouses' earnings would have to experience an unprecedented increase in order for wives' earnings to become disequalizing.

Originally published in: Journal of Income Distribution, v. 8, no. 1, 1998, pp. 45-61.

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