Reports Have Greatly Exaggerated The Death of One Gender Stereotype

We’ve heard it so often that we assume it must be true: The influx of women into the workplace has transformed the balance of gender power on the home front. Clearly, there’s some truth to this, but not as much as one might suppose. The difficulty lies in the premise—i.e., that women often account for a major share of the modern household’s income. In the majority of married-couple homes where at least one person works full-time, that turns out not to be the case.

Gallup polling finds that 54 percent of working married people live in households in which the husband brings in all or most of the family income. In 28 percent of cases, the husband is the sole earner; in another 26 percent, he earns “a lot more” than the wife. Playing closer to modern stereotype are the 16 percent of working-married households where the husband earns “a little more” than the wife, the 11 percent where husband and wife earn “about the same” and the 5 percent where the wife earns a little more than the husband. There are relatively few cases where the wife earns a lot more money than the husband (5 percent) or is the sole earner (8 percent).

As you’d expect, the presence of children is a salient factor. “The chances of the husband being the primary earner are much greater in households in which there is a child under age 18 present.” (Other polls have found that mothers of young kids generally prefer it that way.) Even in households that are child-free, though, “the prevalence of females as chief providers is only 19 percent.” By the way, the study offers some disquieting news for would-be gigolos: Couples in which the wife is the main earner are less likely to have household income of $50,000-plus than are couples in which the husband is the primary earner (54 percent vs. 66 percent).

The persistence of traditional gender roles in working-married households—and, even more so, in married-with-children families—is reflected in the attitudes of the women who inhabit them. These women tend to be more culturally and politically conservative than single women. One recent example: In a poll conducted for the Democratic Leadership Council, single women were more likely to have a favorable view of the Democratic Party than of the Republican Party. Married women, by contrast, were more likely to have a favorable view of the Republican Party than of the Democratic Party. In particular, “married voters with kids at home have become the base of the Republican Party.” Married mothers are not exempt from this tendency.