A Cohort of the Rich the Media Overlook

The research continues to demonstrate that dual-income married couples, especially those who are high-earners, contribute substantially to rising levels of income inequality. Even as the labor-force participation rate of married women has declined since the mid-1990s, the earnings gap separating men and women has narrowed while the income gap separating rich households from all others has actually grown, a disparity driven in large part by the disproportionate growth in the earnings of wives who are married to high-earning husbands. The latest study, by Christine R. Schwartz of the University of Wisconsin, documents the narrowing of the gender wage gap particularly between men and women married to each other. Using data from the 1968 to 2006 March Current Population Survey representing more than 710,000 married couples, the sociologist estimates that inequality in household income among married-couple households would be about 25 percent to 30 percent lower had there been no increased association, or parity, between the wage earnings of spouses. In her descriptive statistics, Schwartz found that earnings inequality between families had risen in each of her four measures between 1967 and 2005, as the concentration of earnings among married couples had shifted to the top 20 percent of the earnings distribution. The differences in earnings between the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent of couples increased by 87 percent; the differences between the top 20 percent and the middle 60 percent increased by 59 percent. Much of that shift, claims Schwartz, is due to the increased correlation between the earnings of dual-income couples during the same period, meaning that wives’ earnings rose to more closely approximate their husbands’ earnings. Among these privileged couples, the correlation almost tripled, with most of the change coming during the 1980s and as the earnings of wives with middle- and high-earning husbands experiencing the most rapid growth.
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