Dual-Earner Families

views updated May 17 2018

Dual-Earner Families

The language of dual-earner families developed in research on families in industrialized societies. The term was needed to describe what was then a new family form that arose when women who had once worked inside the home, doing everything from nurturing work to family farming to producing goods such as candles and clothes, moved into a cash economy and took paid jobs. Questions that emerged from women's paid employment ranged from the effect of women's income on their power within marriage to who would take care of the children at home. These questions only make sense, however, in societies in which most couples live in nuclear families, a cash economy predominates, and both spouses leave the family setting in order to earn money to provide for their household.

Asia and the Middle East

In general, few Asian nuclear households can actually be considered dual-earner families. When married women work for pay, it is usually because their husbands are working in marginal jobs, and the family needs the extra income to survive (Kim 1997; Saso 1990). Research in Asia suggests that the majority of women value being a housewife, as this status coincides with wealth. This value fits well with the traditional beliefs about women in Asia, where women's loyalty is presumed to be solely to their husbands and children (Kim 1997; Lewis et al. 1992; Saso 1990). When women work for pay because husbands are unable to support the family solely, it is not expected that this would significantly change the balance of power or the division of labor. When asked, these employed women say that they should be in charge of the home, and their husbands should not necessarily share the work in the house. Stigma exists against wives who work for money; they are often accused of neglecting their husbands and children. Some evidence suggests that an increasing number of women in dual-earner families feel the burden is unfair (Kim 1997; Saso 1990).

Local governments in some Japanese and Singaporean cities provide day nurseries for poor families, at times with most of the cost absorbed (Lewis et al. 1992; Saso 1990). Commentators continually call for more part-time work for mothers and flexibility in mothers' work schedules rather than for increased participation of husbands and fathers in household work and childcare (Saso 1990). Research on dual-earner Singaporean families shows that, as elsewhere, fathers spend considerably less time with their children and on housework than do mothers (Lewis et al. 1992). Also as elsewhere, the greater his participation in childcare, the more the husband is likely to support his wife's employment (Wang 1992).

In the 1980s, many middle-class to lower middle-class Middle Eastern women became part of dual-earner families against their husbands' wishes because of dire economic need. Many men in Arabic societies would prefer to take two or three jobs to keep wives out of paid labor. Although the husbands may disapprove, the women report their positive economic contribution to the household as well as the financial security for their family for the long term. Many Middle Eastern Arabic women work in spite of the prevailing ideology supporting patriarchal families, which promotes selflessness for women in their marriages, men's sole providership, and husbands as head of the family. When spouses both work for pay despite believing in an ideology that supports male dominance, female selflessness, and women's role as restricted to family life, both wives and husbands experience internal distress. Since the mid-1980s, however, the number of Middle Eastern dual-earner families has been on the decline (Ghorayshi 1996; Redclift and Sinclair 1991).

Due to inflation, it is difficult in urban India for a couple to lead comfortable lives unless both spouses work; this family type is increasing because of economic necessity, rather than egalitarian ideals. Dual-earner lifestyles generally benefit women, but stress their husbands (Andrade; Postma; and Abraham 1999). Several researchers have found that employed and unemployed women in India did not differ in measures of psychological well-being (Mukhopadhyay, Dewanji, and Majumder 1993). Dual-earner wives reported greater freedom in certain parts of their lives, though their husbands still controlled financial matters. Employed wives still reported doing five times as much household work as their husbands did (Ramu 1989) and do not hold significantly less traditional attitudes than other women.

Between 1966 and 1989, the proportion of dual-earner families among married couples in Israel increased from 26 percent to 47 percent. Israeli cultural beliefs focus on motherhood as not simply a family role, but a role in providing additional citizens for the nation. The cultural assumption is that a woman will combine family and work, in that order (Lewis et al. 1992). Israeli women receive a double message as they are educated toward modern achievement-oriented values but also taught to have strong family-oriented norms and be responsible for household labor. Women, but not men, are expected to take time off from work for family needs. Both spouses in dual-earner families were found to report a higher quality of marital life and psychological well-being when compared to families where the husband is the only employed spouse (Frankel 1997).

Latin America

Mexico is the only Latin American country where research in the English language has been published, and therefore where the proportion of and experiences of wives participating in the cash economy can be assessed. Rural women in large numbers began working in the maquiladora industry in Mexico as it emerged in the mid-1960s. The typical household structure changed from a breadwinner-homemaker to an assortment of household structures, including female-breadwinner married couples, extended family households where individuals pool their incomes, and single person households (Cravey 1998). Some research suggests that in urban areas of Mexico, married women are not engaging in paid work until their children are old enough to care for themselves (Selby, Murphy, and Lorenzen 1990). Dual-earner wives in Mexico have noted that their marital relationships suffer as a result of their employment because it becomes more difficult to find time to spend alone with their husbands (Frankel 1997). Where married women are employed, there is a subtle change in the balance of power in the home (Cravey 1998). Women in dual-earner families generally have nontraditional beliefs about the division of labor in the home, but rarely have enough power to put their beliefs into practice (Frankel 1997).

Eastern Europe and Russia

When Eastern Europe and Russia were socialist, paid employment was both a right and an obligation of all adults; dual-earner families were the normative type of family. Since the transition to a market economy in these areas, governmental ideology has often used women's home obligations to justify their removal from jobs, and the unemployment rates of women have markedly increased (Arber and Gilbert 1992; Lewis et al. 1992; Lobodzinska 1995). There is no evidence that women want to define themselves as homemakers; they are unemployed and searching for ways to earn income. The dual-earner family continues to be the modal family type in most post-Soviet societies. The majority of Russian and East European women regard themselves as either the primary or co-breadwinner of their family (Lobodzinska 1995).

As elsewhere, dual burdens have been conceptualized in Eastern Europe as women's burden. Women in dual-earner families have always been expected to work for pay after childbirth and to maintain the home and family, while men are only expected to work for pay (Arber and Gilbert 1992; Lewis et al. 1992). During the socialist era, this dual burden was less weighty than in capitalist societies because of the widespread availability of childcare facilities and governmental subsidies including maternity leave and health care. Although communist countries varied some in the extent to which such policies existed, the normative requirement that women work in paid labor helped to justify a wide-ranging set of services. This has been discontinued in the post-communist era, and women are finding the double-burden very heavy (Gal and Kligman 2000; Vannoy et al. 1999).

Western and Southern Europe

Research has found that the majority of married French women maintained full-time employment after childbirth (Arber and Gilbert 1992). Dual-earner families have increased in number since the early 1980s in Great Britain, but dual-earner families where both partners are employed full-time are still in the minority there (Crompton 1997; Hatt 1997). Women in Great Britain, especially those with a spouse in full-time employment, are likely to work part-time (Hatt 1997).

Germany is unique in Western Europe in that this democratic, capitalist country is the result of the unification of one democratic and one communist country in 1989. Many women from the former East Germany expect to be employed, even if their husbands could afford to support their family on their salaries. While many former East German families continue to be dual-earner families, after unification, women have been forced into lower status jobs, removing their place as economic equals in their marriages (Lobodzinska 1995). In the former East Germany, the government subsidized childcare facilities, aiding most dual-earner families; since unification, the focus has been on mothers caring for their children rather than the state providing care (Lobodzinska 1995). While dual-earner families were normative in the former East Germany, West German women have always struggled more in combining work and family roles. Former West German mothers who delegate childcare and work as a part of a dual-earner family sometimes experience guilt regarding meeting society's expectations that they be full-time mothers (Frankel 1997).

Dual-earner families are supported through public policy in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands. Living arrangements supportive of dual-earner families, housing that is close to workplaces, and a multitude of childcare arrangements are all supported through governmental policy (Fortuijn 1996; Lewis et al. 1992; Sundström 1999). Additionally, tax policy in Sweden provides incentives for dual-earner families rather than penalizing them. A large proportion of dual-earner families in many of these countries follow the pattern of the husband working full-time and the wife working long part-time, which is employment between twenty and thirty-five hours per week. In Sweden, long part-time work carries the same benefits and job security provisions as full-time work (Lewis et al. 1992; Sundström 1999). This long part-time work, although available to all parents, is used mostly by women. Perhaps because of this, women in Sweden are less successful in the workforce (as in pay equality and holding top positions) than in the United States, where employed women are more likely to work full-time (Rosenfeld and Kalleberg 1990). Even within Nordic countries, attitude surveys find that most men do not fully support an equal division of household labor, or spend equal hours in family work. Among Nordic countries, the Dutch are relatively conservative regarding dual-earners in the family, although they do not feel that children in dual-earner families are disadvantaged compared to children in single-earner families (Scott 1999).

While many women in the predominantly Catholic countries of Southern Europe want to work for pay, expect to work for many years of their lives, and value the independence of employment, relatively few married women actually engage in market work while their children are young. Many of the dual-earner families change to this status after the children are in school (Bimbi 1989; López 1998). Government policies encourage women to stay home with very young children. Italy provides generous maternity policies and widespread preschool coverage for children over the age of three (Scott 1999). The Italian government favors the dual-earner family through the income tax system, as the proportional net income added by a second earner is treated more generously than the main income (Shaver and Bradshaw 1995). Spain provides differential publicly funded childcare services by age of the child; 2 percent of the childcare services for children under the age of three are publicly funded, while 84 percent of the childcare services for children ages three to six are publicly funded (López 1998). In countries within Southern Europe, the division of labor in dual-earner couples is less gendered than in families in which the husband is the sole support because men do slightly more housework and spend more time with their children than do husbands of housewives (Bimbi 1989). Nevertheless, the work of rearing children and running a household remains primarily with women.

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).


Tax policies and the provision of governmental grants generally determine whether mothers work full-time outside of the home. Those countries where policies provide benefits to full-time dual-earner families have a higher proportion of married mothers working full-time than do countries where policies penalize more than one full-time employed worker in a home (Crompton 1997; Moss 1988; Scott 1999).

Further, it is clear is that wives' income production does not, by itself, transform male-dominated marriages into egalitarian ones. Women's ability to earn their own incomes, and to survive economically outside marriages, seems to be a necessary but not sufficient condition for equality within marriage. Cultural beliefs continue to matter tremendously. In a patriarchal kinship network, if women enter paid labor because their men are underemployed or unemployed, they simply carry two jobs, the double burden, and do not necessarily challenge, at least in the short run, the submissiveness presumed to be a part of the wife role. Only societies in which women entering and remaining in the paid labor is part of a gender revolution, in which there is a cultural belief in individual rights, for women as well as men, is women's labor force participation part of a larger social change toward equality between the sexes. Only in the context of social change toward gender equality more generally is there a movement toward equality in marriage when women work for pay.

See also:Childcare; Division of Labor; Equity; Family Roles; Fatherhood; Housework; Marital Quality; Motherhood; Power: Marital Relationships; Time Use; Work and Family


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shannon n. davis barbara j. risman

dual-earner families

views updated Jun 08 2018

dual-earner families, dual-earner marriages See DUAL-CAREER MARRIAGES.