Posted April 27, 2009
Human Resources

Study: Hours and earnings of dual-earner couples - 1997 to 2008

The relative contributions of wives and husbands to paid work hours and earnings have become closer over the past 12 years. Wives now work longer hours at their paid jobs and they earn more than in the past.

But in 2008, most dual-earner wives still contributed less than 45% of total family earnings, making the majority of them the secondary earner in couples with paid jobs.

Between 1997 and 2008, the proportion of wives earning at least 45% of the family total increased from 37% to 42%. Most of this change was driven by an increase in the proportion of women who were primary breadwinners.

The working hours of husbands and wives also became closer between 1997 and 2008. In 2008, 65% of wives were considered equal workers in terms of weekly paid hours, up from 60% in 1997.

During the 12-year period, the average combined work week for spouses in dual-earner couples remained relatively unchanged at around 77 hours.

However, the average weekly hours worked by wives increased steadily, while husbands put in fewer hours on the job. In 1997, husbands worked over 9 hours a week more than their wives (43.3 compared with 33.8). By 2008, this difference had declined to just over 7 (42.0 compared with 34.7).

Over the same period, women's average weekly earnings increased at a faster pace than men's. In 1997, $640 (39%) of total family earnings came from wives; by 2008, wives were contributing $740 (41% of the total).

The proportional contribution by wives to family hours and earnings increased steadily over the period, often in significant annual increments.

On average, dual-earner couples with full-time paid jobs earned $1,770 a week before taxes in 2008, up about 10% from $1,610 in 1997.

The increasing proportion of full-time, dual-earner families continues to make work-life balance an important issue. Around one in four men in full-time, dual-earner families with young children at home, and more than one in three women, reported feeling severely time stressed. And time stress, in turn, is associated with significantly lower rates of satisfaction with work-life balance.

Note to readers

This study used the Labour Force Survey to examine historical trends in total hours worked by employed couples (including both married and common law), the distribution of single and dual-earning families, and the proportions of hours and earnings contributed by husbands and wives.

Consistent with similar studies, spouses' earnings and hours are considered approximately equal if each spouse accounts for between 45% and 55% of the total.

This study also used the General Social Survey to investigate perceptions of work-life balance and personal stress among dual-earners.

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