Survey: Americans see men as the financial providers, even as women’s contributions grow

Written on Oct 10, 2017

In about a third of married or cohabiting couples in the United States, women bring in half or more of the earnings, a significant increase from the past. But in most couples, men contribute more of the income, and this aligns with the fact that Americans place a higher value on a man’s role as financial provider.

Roughly seven-in-ten adults (71%) say it is very important for a man to be able to support a family financially to be a good husband or partner. By comparison, 32% say it’s very important for a woman to do the same to be a good wife or partner, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Men are especially likely to place a greater emphasis on their role as financial providers. While a nearly equal share of men and women say a man needs to be able to provide for his family to be a good husband or partner (72% and 71%, respectively), men are less likely than women to say the same about women. Just a quarter of men say this is very important for a woman to be a good wife or partner, compared with 39% of women.

However, the importance of being the financial provider ranks behind being caring and compassionate when it comes to being a good spouse or partner, in the public’s estimation. Overwhelming majorities say it is very important for men (86%) and women (90%) to have these qualities to be good spouses or partners.

As women in the U.S. have increased their labor force participation and earning power, their contributions to household incomes have grown. These trends, along with the fact that women with higher levels of education and income are more likely to marry, have boosted the economic status of married households. Today, married adults are much more likely to live in upper-income households than are non-married adults.

At the same time, income dynamics among couples have shifted. In 1980, only 13% of married women earned more than or about as much as their husbands. By 2000, the share had risen to 25%. Today, 31% of women who are married or cohabiting are contributing at least half of the couple’s total earnings (including 28% who earn more than their husband or partner and 3% who earn about the same amount). In 69% of married or cohabiting couples, the man earns more than the woman, though this is down from 87% of married couples in 1980.

The relative financial contributions of men and women differ significantly by the educational attainment of each partner. In about half (49%) of couples in which the husband and wife are both at least 25 years old and the woman has more education than her male partner, she also earns at least as much as he does. In 29% of couples where both people have the same level of education, the woman earns the same as or more than the man. That share falls to 20% in couples where the man has more education than his wife or partner.

The nationally representative survey of 4,971 adults was conducted Aug. 8-21, 2017, using Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel.

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