Mundy may be right that more households will soon be supported by women rather than by men, but in part that is because more women are raising children without male support; few of these women qualify as “the richer sex.” In addition, much of the growth in the share of income that wives contribute to households results from the long-term stagnation of men’s wages. Thanks to the ban onpay and hiring discrimination over the past 40 years, women’s average wages have risen from their much lower starting point, but they do not yet equal men’s.
The increase in the percentage of women in dual-earner households who earn more than their husbands is impressive, but such role reversals seldom last over the course of the marriage. Because working women still tend to make more adjustments to accommodate the demands of parenthood than do their working spouses, even women who outearn their male partners for several years in a row usually end up with lower earnings over a lifetime.
Indeed, in a paper released this month by the Council on Contemporary Families, sociologists David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman argue that in some areas, the gender revolution has stalled since its surge in the late 1970s. The pace of occupational desegregation by gender has slowed or even reversed since 1990, especially outside middle-class professions. Working-class jobs, in fact, are nearly as segregated as they were in the 1950s. And since 1994, there has been a slight slippage in Americans’ support for nontraditional marital roles.
Nevertheless, Mundy is correct that the changes in behavior and attitudes since the 1970s constitute a social and economic transformation so far-reaching that it “will reshape the landscape of the heart.” Unlike many observers, she believes that this restructuring of intimate life will benefit both genders. Her interviews with women and men lead her to herald the emergence of a world where both sexes are “freer to make purely romantic choices” based on individual preference rather than constrained by stereotypes about who will or should be the primary breadwinner.
Mundy does not deny that many people and institutions have had trouble adapting to women’s economic and educational successes. She points to Asia as an example of the serious problems that arise when cultures cling to traditional patriarchal values in the face of changing gender realities. She also mentions (although too briefly) the difficulties facing low-income Americans, who have suffered a sharp decrease in marriage rates and an increase in male-female tensions because of changing gender norms and growing economic insecurity.