Women have reduced their participation in the U.S. labor force in order to avoid earning more than their husbands and keep peace in the households, according to the research by Marianne Bertrand, an economist at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
She and her co-authors found that couples have an aversion to a wife earning more than a husband — so much so that when the wife’s salary approaches her husband’s, it can result in reducing their marriage satisfaction and creates a higher likelihood of divorce. This concern could explain part of the
decline in the U.S. marriage rate in recent decades, the research found.
Bertrand says while it’s illegal for employers to discriminate against women, enforcement of such laws can only help women in the workforce to a degree in the face of social norms.
“What would be holding women back in the labor market?” Bertrand said in an interview. “The old stories about women are not as educated, women are discriminated against — a lot of these things have gone away. These social norms could still be a factor in holding women back. I think this paper is really just an illustration of that.”
The same social aversion to women earning more than their mates seems to exist in Asia, Bertrand said.
Bertrand’s research serves as a rejoinder to the view expressed by Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, author of the bestselling book “Lean In.” Sandberg urges women to pursue their careers aggressively, for example by negotiating harder for pay increases.
Read Bloomberg’s full story on Bertrand’s research here.