Economic self-reliance and gender inequality between U.S. men and women, 1970–2010

Deirdre Bloome, Derek Burk, Leslie McCall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Women have become increasingly economically self-reliant, depending more on paid employment for their positions in the income distribution than in the past. We know little about what happened to men, however, because most prior research restricts changes in self-reliance to be “zero-sum,” with women’s changes necessitating opposite and proportionate changes among men. This article introduces a measure that allows asymmetric changes and also incorporates multiple population subgroups and income sources beyond couples’ labor earnings. Using Current Population Survey data, the authors find that women’s self-reliance increased dramatically, as expected, but men’s declined only slightly. The authors decompose these trends into changes in family structure and redistribution, which increased and decreased self-reliance, respectively, for men and women, though more for women. Labor market shifts, by contrast, were asymmetric and opposing, reducing men’s self-reliance much less than they increased women’s. The authors’ approach opens opportunities for new insight into both gender inequality and the income attainment process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1413-1467
Number of pages55
JournalAmerican Journal of Sociology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We benefited from the insightful comments of the AJS reviewers, Janet Gornick, Alexandra Killewald, Sarah Thebaud, and Russell Sage Foundation visiting scholars, including Katharine Donato, Jennifer Jennings, Michal Kurlaender, Dina Okamoto, and An-drea Voyer. We also benefited from early feedback from Maria Cancian, Diane Felmlee, Molly Martin, Ann Orloff, Alberto Palloni, Lincoln Quillian, Pamela Smock, and Megan Sweeney, as well as audience comments at department colloquia and the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association and the Population Association of America. We gratefully acknowledge support from the Russell Sage Foundation and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Center Grant P2CHD041028.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.


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