Toyboys or supergirls? An analysis of partners’ employment outcomes when she outearns him

In this paper we study households in which the woman is the main earner, encompassing both dual-earners with the wife outearning the husband and couples in which the husband is not employed. The literature in this area is very scant. Earlier studies find that the wife outearns the husband in roughly one of every four dual-earner couples in North-American countries. According to our estimates, the wife earns a higher hourly wage than the husband in one of every six French households, including couples with an inactive partner, and, moreover, this proportion is almost the same considering partners’ monthly earnings. Economic models of marriage would predict that the wife’s earnings dominance be compensated by the husband being younger or possibly more attractive than the wife. Using a large dataset of couples, drawn from the French Labor Force surveys, we find that larger spousal age differences correlate positively with the occurrence of couples in which only the wife works but negatively with dual-earners in which she outearns the husband. Therefore, a marriage selection type of story may explain the occurrence of female solo-earner households while the emergence of “power couples” may provide a rationale for dual-earners in which the wife outearns the husband.

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