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Married Women's Headship: The Relationship between Economic Power and Status in the Household

Publication Abstract

Download PDF versionBiddlecom, Ann E., and Ellen A. Kramarow. "Married Women's Headship: The Relationship between Economic Power and Status in the Household." PSC Research Report No. 95-343. November 1995.

Household headship among married couples has usually been equated with one main economic provider of the household, almost always the husband. Despite the dramatic rise in married women's labor force participation, the proportion of married women who are head of household remains small, 3.7 percent in 1980 rising only to 6.9 percent in 1990. This paper examines to what degree married female headship reflects headship in the traditional sense (the head is the main or only breadwinner of a married couple) versus other non-economic explanations. Using the 1980-1990 U.S. Censuses, the authors find strong support for a traditional explanation of headship: married women who are primary economic providers (i.e., women contributing 70 percent or more of a couple's income) are much more likely to head the household than women in marriages where neither spouse is the main provider. However, persistent race and education effects indicate that economics is not the only factor driving married women's headship.

Data Used: 1980 PUMS, 1990 PUMS.

Dataset(s): Census: U.S., 1980, 1990.

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