Households where the woman is the sole earner are significantly poorer – new research

The term ‘female breadwinner’ conjures images of power-dressing corporate businesswomen who are bucking traditional gender norms to ‘have it all’. However, high-earning women make up only a small proportion of female breadwinners, the majority of which tend to work less hours than their male counterparts do, and are less likely to be in managerial positions.

The ESRC research project, ‘Female-Breadwinner Families in Europe’ aims to shed light on the economic characteristics of female-breadwinner couples, and uses data from the Luxembourg Income Study.

CPC associates Dr Helen Kowalewska and Dr Agnese Vitali analysed survey data on 171,697 people in the United States, Australia, Canada and 17 European countries. The research looked at working households containing two heterosexual cohabiting spouses or partners aged 18-65, and found stark economic differences between couples in different countries.

Findings show that British households where women are the sole earners average $3,000 (USD) less disposable income compared to a male sole earner. This is similar to results for the majority of countries in Southern and Eastern Europe.

Dr Helen Kowalewska recently presented this new research at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Glasgow:

“Our findings shed doubt on popular depictions of female breadwinners as high-earning, empowered women – instead they are often lower-educated,” Dr Kowalewska told the conference. “Rather than reflecting women’s empowerment or greater gender equity, female breadwinners are in this position by default, forced to take up employment when their partner loses his job.”

However, female breadwinner families earning less than male counterparts is not a universally norm. In Western Europe, the US, Canada and Australia, households with women as the sole breadwinners typically earned more than those with just the men in employment, with only Germany and Norway an exception.

“One reason why the UK bucks the trend for Western Europe is that women who are the sole breadwinners work significantly fewer hours, an average of 34 a week, compared with sole men breadwinners who work 43.” Dr Helen Kowalewska continues. “They are also less likely to be in managerial or professional occupations – 29% – compared with 26% for men sole breadwinners.”

The result for the UK means that families where woman are the only wage earner are, on average, poorer than other family types. Therefore, Dr Kowalewska encourages social policy analysis to pay greater attention to female breadwinners, who may be disproportionately impacted by modern day social risks such as in-work poverty, and work/care conflicts.

http://www.cpc.ac.uk/news/latest_news/?action=story&id=651

 

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