More women in the workforce make bigger bucks than husbands

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Things are sweeter than ever for the recliner kings of America's four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath castles.

Contemporary American husbands are working less, going to school less, living longer and are reaping the benefits of wives who are bringing home the big bucks more than any of their dapper "Mad Men" counterparts of the 1960s.

It continues to be a man's world, only a little more comfy these days.

So say a barrage of new studies in the past few months that show women in America are just about to make up the majority of the U.S. workforce, are dominating universities and now, in ever-increasing numbers, are the better-educated, more handsomely paid half of American marriages.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but all these recent studies are pointing to an interesting trend -- marriage is increasingly becoming a better deal for the male of the species.

The study released today by the Pew Research Center shows that in one out of five married couples, the wife earns more than the husband. That's a huge shift in 40 years, when this was the case in just 4 percent of American marriages.

It used to be that marriage was one of the big ways in which women got an economic boost, according to Pew researchers. Outside of fairytales where the scamp snags the baron's daughter, it was rarely the other way around.

But today, more men than ever better their lot by marrying a smart, career-driven woman.

This is a big change for a growing number of men whose dads were expected to support a cast of dependents after they walked down the aisle.

So on the whole, there's a little less pressure on men to financially carry the entire household today. That may not offer much solace to the men who have borne the brunt of the layoffs in this recession. In some marriages, those layoffs are the reason a woman is the principal breadwinner.

But women have been making gains in the workplace for four decades -- a shift that ought to be an indicator of fantastic social change. Only, in reality, women's increasing success is not so rosy up close.

The counterpoint to what Pew calls "the rise of wives" is another study entitled "The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness," which says that women, despite their huge social and economic leaps, aren't feeling all zippity-do-dah about life these days.

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