Earning among Women and Men Impacts Perceptions of Being a Good Spouse or Partner

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In heterosexual couples, who brings home the bacon, so to speak, and does it matter in how they are viewed as a good spouse or partner? New data from the PEW Research Center shows that the response to these questions likely depends on who you ask.

The organization collected data from about 5,000 Americans in late August 2017, and asked them about who earned money in the household and what were characteristics of a good partner or spouse. PEW researchers then analyzed the data and considered the role of demographics in the responses.

Results show that in about 69 percent of households, men earn the most money. To put things in perspective, in 1980, that figure was 87 percent. So, over the past three and a half decades, the percent of women who are the top earners in the household has more than doubled.

The pollsters asked respondents how supporting one’s family was reflective of being a good spouse or partner. 71 percent said it was very important for a man to support a family financially in order to be a good husband or partner. Only 32 percent, however, responded in a similar way when asked about women’s support and being a good wife or partner. Being compassionate was comparatively more important for all persons than was earning potential.

Demographics influenced the responses. Both Latinos and African Americans placed more value on providing financially than did Whites. This was the case when rating both husbands and wives. In terms of socioeconomic status, 41 percent of people who earned less than $30,000 said it was important for a woman to provide financially in order to be a good wife. That figure was 23 percent for families earning over $75,000.

The data show that individual differences—from gender, to race, to socioeconomic status, influence how we think about financially supporting families and being a good spouse or partner.