More Wives Head for Work

The effect of this gender shift in the job market isn’t simply economic. Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, has produced studies that show men now struggle to balance family and career more than women do—45 percent of men report such problems, vs. 39 percent of women. “Work isn’t working very well for men,” says Galinsky.

Angela Patterson, 44, knows the struggles all too well. When the single mother of two adult daughters met her husband three years ago, she was hoping to find economic security. Instead, he lost his job as a contractor, and Patterson ended up moving from North Carolina to New York to enroll at the Grace Institute, a nonprofit that prepares women for the workforce. The training helped her become an agent for New York Life. She’s living with her daughter in New York since her husband doesn’t want to come North. “Women are born and bred to be adaptable,” she says. “When you have kids and bills to pay, you make sacrifices.”

Few experts expect the women who were pushed by recession into the labor market to leave as the economy picks up. Eroded housing values, diminished retirement accounts, and the prospect of higher taxes and anemic wage growth for themselves and their husbands provide these reluctant workers powerful incentives to stay at their jobs.

Diana Gomez, for one, isn’t giving up her job in the dentist’s office, even though her husband was recalled to his job in a sheet metal factory four months ago. The double income they have now is enough to restore a minimal sense of security. “We can function as a whole family now,” says Gomez, who has two children. “We’re able to pay the bills. The pressure’s not all on me.”


By Diane Brady |

As men cope with unemployment, more wives head to work

Angela Patterson is working as an insurance agent in New York while her husband looks for construction jobs in North Carolina. Diana Gomez had been staying home to care for an ill daughter. When her husband lost his job, she became an administrative assistant in a dentist’s office. Michelle, a social worker and mother of three young children in Baltimore, who asked that her last name not be used, switched from part-time to full-time work when her husband was laid off last year. She kept to that schedule after he found work earlier this year—at two-thirds his former salary.

They are the reluctant breadwinners: Women who wanted to stay home until their income suddenly became critical to the well-being of their families. In some cases they are increasing their hours to keep the bills paid. Others are taking up employment for the first time as their husbands struggle to find work. With the anemic recovery keeping the job outlook uncertain, the accelerated gender shift is likely to stick, creating new challenges for U.S. families. Leer más “More Wives Head for Work”