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Dual-Earner Families

United States, Canada, And Australia

In the United States, most women expect to remain in the labor force for their adult lives, with only brief interruptions for childbearing (Coltrane and Collins 2001). Although most marriages with young children involve two paid spouses, somewhere between one-third and one-half of these have one spouse, usually the wife, who works less than a full forty-hour week. The evidence is contradictory as to whether part-time dual-earner couples or couples where both spouses work between thirty-nine and forty-five hours per week are the happiest with their work/family roles (Moen and Yu 1999; White 1999). However, most dual-earner families cope well and are personally satisfied with their lives (Lewis and Cooper 1988). Although many women in dual-earner families find that their spouses support their employment, employment may also be a source of conflict in male-dominated relationships. The husband's job and his attitude toward contributing to the wife's career success is a significant predictor of how well the wife negotiates her roles as well as how she feels about her job and her life as a wife (Gill and Hibbins 1996; Poole and Langan-Fox 1997).

The evidence is also contradictory evidence on whether the time that men spend doing housework is affected by the amount of time their wives spend on paid labor. Some studies suggest that husbands in dual-earner families do increase their participation in housework and childcare, albeit only slightly. Wives' longer employment hours are linked to their lower proportional share of childcare and lower absolute levels of household work (Almeida, Maggs, and Galambos 1993). Wives in dual-earner families who work full-time and who earn more than 50 percent of the family income do less housework than if they earned less than 50 percent of the family income (McFarlane, Beaujot, and Haddad 2000). Wives seem to need to earn as much as their husband, as well as to work as many hours, in order to change the power dynamics successfully enough to increase the husbands' contribution to household labor (Crompton 1997).

Family dynamics are changing as marital roles change. Although many dual-earner fathers still do not spend as much time on their family role as do dual-earner mothers, those who do find many rewards that at times offset the negative effects (e.g., increased stress, stagnated earnings) (Frankel 1997). Fathers who become involved in general childcare find it easier to balance work/family stress than fathers who are less involved in childcare (Berry and Rao 1997). Girls raised in dual-earner families hold less stereotypic views of women and men as well as what typical women and men are like and are able to do than those reared in father as single-earner families (Lewis et al. 1992). Full-time dual-earner families expect more housework from their daughters but little from their sons compared to other family types; part-time dual earner families expect the least amount of chore time from their children overall (Benin and Edwards 1990).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaModern Marriage & Family IssuesDual-Earner Families - Asia And The Middle East, Latin America, Eastern Europe And Russia, Western And Southern Europe