America’s working women

Published on Jobs, Skills and Pay

This post originally appeared on Coffee House, The Spectator Blog

We know that the growth of women in work has been a significant driver of household income growth in the UK over the last 50 years. In fact, children are now most likely to grow up in poverty in male breadwinner households.

Today’s publication of the annual snapshot of America’s middle class – The State of Working America – reveals a similar trend on the other side of the Atlantic. As Figure 1 shows, American families with women in work saw their family incomes rise from the early 1970s until the early 2000s. Conversely, families without a woman in work (both couples and single parents) did not.

Figure 1. Indexed Median family income by family type, 1973 to 2010

Source: Resolution Foundation analysis of EPI data

Given the significance of female employment, it is concerning that the growth of women in work has faltered in recent years in the US and UK. Figure 2 shows that the proportion of families with working women rose in the US until the 1990s as it did in the UK, from one in five in 1951 to just under half in 1989. However, by 2010, around four in ten families did not have women in the paid workforce.

Figure 2. Share of families by family type, 1951 to 2010

Source: Resolution Foundation analysis of EPI data

Notes: Breakdown excluding changes in household size and deductions

The challenge of supporting women to remain in, and return to, work is one of the areas that will shape long-term trends in the household incomes of low to middle income families in the US and the UK.