By David Crary
NEW YORK Historically, marriage was the traditional path to financial security for women. Nowadays, it's men who increasingly get the biggest economic boost from tying the knot, according to a new analysis of census data.
The changes, summarized in a Pew Research Center report being released today, reflect the proliferation of working wives over the past 40 years – a period in which American women outpaced men in both education and earnings growth.
A larger share of today's men, compared with their 1970 counterparts, are married to women whose education and income exceed their own. Conversely, a larger share of women are married to men with less education and income.
“From an economic perspective, these trends have contributed to a gender role reversal in the gains from marriage,” wrote the report's authors, Richard Fry and D'Vera Cohn.
“In the past, when relatively few wives worked, marriage enhanced the economic status of women more than that of men. In recent decades, however, the economic gains associated with marriage have been greater for men.”
One barometer is the U.S. median household income – which rose 60 percent between 1970 and 2007 for married men, married women and unmarried women, but only 16 percent for unmarried men, according to the Pew data.
The report focused on U.S.-born men and women aged 30-44.
In 1970, according to the report, 28 percent of wives in that age range had husbands better educated than they were, outnumbering the 20 percent whose husbands had less education. By 2007, these patterns had reversed – 19 percent of wives had husbands with more education, compared with 28 percent whose husbands had less education.
In the remaining couples – about half in 1970 and 2007 – spouses had similar education levels.
Only 4 percent of husbands had wives who earned more than they did in 1970, compared with 22 percent in 2007. During that span, women's earnings grew 44 percent, compared with 6 percent growth for men, although a gender gap remains.
According to 2009 Census Bureau figures, women with full-time jobs earned salaries equal to 77.9 percent of what men earned, compared with 52 percent in 1970.
Census shows boom in singles aged 30-44
The shifts in earnings capacity cited in the Pew Research Center report coincided with a marked decline in the share of Americans who are married. Among U.S.-born 30- to 44-year-olds, 60 percent were married in 2007, compared with 84 percent in 1970. For African-Americans, the rates were even lower – 33 percent of black women and 44 percent of black men were married in 2007, the report said.