Wedded (fiscal) bliss: Nuptials aid men more

Roles reversed, new report says

By David Crary
Associated Press / January 19, 2010

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NEW YORK - Historically, marriage was the surest route to financial security for women. Nowadays, it is men who are increasingly getting the biggest economic boost from tying the knot, according to an analysis of census data.

The changes, summarized in a Pew Research Center report being released today, reflect the proliferation of working wives over the past 40 years - a period in which American women outpaced men in education and earnings growth. A larger share of today’s men, compared with their 1970 counterparts, are married to women whose education and income exceed their own.

“From an economic perspective, these trends have contributed to a gender role reversal in the gains from marriage,’’ wrote the report’s authors, Richard Fry and D’Vera Cohn.

“In the past, when relatively few wives worked, marriage enhanced the economic status of women more than that of men. In recent decades, however, the economic gains associated with marriage have been greater for men.’’

One barometer is median household income - which rose 60 percent between 1970 and 2007 for married men, married women, and unmarried women, but only 16 percent for unmarried men, according to the Pew data.

The report focused on US-born men and women aged 30-44 - a stage when typical adults have finished their education, married, and launched careers. The Pew report noted that it was the first time in US history that more women than men had college degrees in that age group.

In 1970, according to the report, 28 percent of wives in this age range had husbands who were better educated than they were, outnumbering the 20 percent whose husbands had less education.

By 2007, these patterns had reversed - 19 percent of wives had husbands with more education, compared with 28 percent whose husbands had less education.

In the remaining couples - about half in 1970 and 2007 - spouses had similar education levels.

During that span, women’s earnings grew 44 percent, compared with 6 percent growth for men, although a gender gap remains.

According to 2009 Census Bureau figures, women with full-time jobs earned salaries equal to 77.9 percent of what men earned, compared with 52 percent in 1970.

“The gains that women have made in earnings and education are a notable reflection of a range of efforts to promote equal opportunities,’’ Cohn said. “But the earnings gap has not yet closed.’’

The Pew researchers noted that the economic downturn is reinforcing the gender reversal trends, with men losing jobs more often than women.

The Pew report found that unmarried women in 2007 had higher household incomes than their 1970 counterparts at each level of education, while unmarried men without post-secondary education lost ground because their real earnings decreased and they didn’t not have a wife’s wages to offset that decline.

Unmarried men with college degrees made income gains of 15 percent but were outpaced by the 28 percent gains of unmarried women with degrees.