Wives Bring Home The Bacon

Not too many decades ago, a man's capability as a breadwinner was a prime consideration for women sizing up potential husbands. Today, men are increasingly apt to apply that same yardstick to future wives.

As a recent study by Aimee R. Dechter of the University of Wisconsin and Pamela J. Smock of the University of Michigan shows, back in 1963 three out of four husbands provided at least 70% of a couple's earnings. By 1992, however, almost half of all marriages in which the wife was 18 to 44 and the husband was present were "co-provider" unions: Each spouse contributed 31% to 69% of their joint earnings.

As a result, the average income of married couples rose substantially during the three decades--from $35,000 to $50,000 (in 1992 dollars) for whites and from $22,000 to $41,000 for blacks. Posting the smallest gains were couples in traditional marriages, where only the husband brings home the bacon.

In fact, by 1992 the wives contributed an average of 36% in dual-earner families. And in 43% of such families, they were the prime breadwinners--enabling their households to match the incomes of couples in traditional marriages.

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