Four Decades of Changes in Partners' Relative Incomes: Gender Revolution or Men’s Unemployment?

Agnese Vitali, University of Southampton

This contribution provides an overview of changes in the distribution of partners’ relative incomes between the 1980s and the early 2010s in 10 OECD countries using household- and individual-level data on labour incomes from the Luxembourg Income Study database.

Preliminary results show that the distribution of couples’ relative incomes has become, during the past forty years, more symmetrical i.e. gender-equal, particularly in Scandinavian countries, which are closer to completing the gender revolution than any other countries in the analysis. In particular, the share of couples with women as main earners, i.e. women earning more than their partners, has been increasing gradually over time - again especially so in the Scandinavian countries. However, in all countries, the mean of the relative incomes’ distribution seems to stall below the 50% threshold, indicating the existence of barriers to the achievement of a gender-egalitarian equilibrium. Also, the share of male-breadwinner couples, i.e. with the man as the sole earner, is still considerably higher than the share of female-breadwinner couples, i.e. with the woman as the sole earner, although such differences have been declining over time. Contrary to what the gender revolution theory would predict, the share of female-breadwinner couples has not increased over time, nor is it higher in Scandinavian countries than elsewhere. Female-breadwinner couples are linked to the business cycle more than to the diffusion of gender equality: the share of female-breadwinners across countries rise during periods of economic downturns, when the male-dominated job sectors are exposed to higher uncertainty, according to fixed effects regression results.

Presented in Session 114: Households, Couples and Labor Market Choices