Economic Self-Reliance and Gender Inequality between US Men and Women, 1970-2010

Deirdre Bloome, University of Michigan
Derek Burk , Northwestern University
Publication Date:
Mar 2019

Women have become increasingly economically self-reliant, depending more on paid employment than in the past. We know little about what happened to men, however, because most prior research restricts changes in self-reliance to be "zero-sum," with women's changes necessitating opposite and proportionate changes among men. This article introduces a measure that allows asymmetric changes and also incorporates multiple population subgroups and income sources beyond couples' labor earnings. Using Current Population Survey data, the authors find that women's self-reliance increased dramatically, as expected, but men's declined only slightly. The authors decompose these trends into changes in family structure and redistribution, which increased and decreased self-reliance, respectively, for men and women, though more for women. Labor market shifts, by contrast, were asymmetric and opposing, reducing men's self-reliance much less than they increased women's. The authors' approach opens opportunities for new insight into both gender inequality and the income attainment process.


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