Trends in Relative Earnings and Marital Dissolution: Are Wives Who Outearn Their Husbands Still More Likely to Divorce?

Christine R. Schwartz, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Pilar Gonalons Pons, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Christopher McKelvey, University of Wisconsin-Madison

As women’s earnings have risen, so has the likelihood that wives outearn their husbands. Marriages in which wives outearn their husband have received special attention among academics and the press given that this arrangement potentially threatens men’s gender identity as breadwinners and heads of households. But with the rise of egalitarian marriage, whether outearning one’s husbands remains a threat to marital stability is unknown. Previous studies have examined marriages primarily formed in the mid-1980s and earlier and thus may be seriously outdated. This paper describes changes in the association between spouses’ relative earnings and divorce among couples married between 1970 and 2004, bringing the literature forward by almost 20 years. We use proportional hazard models and two measures of relative economic standing: spouses’ relative earnings and relative earnings potential. We further address the issue of omitted variable bias by using a regression discontinuity approach to estimate the effects of wives’ earnings advantage on marital dissolution.

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Presented in Session 174: Trends in Gender Inequality in the United States