Patriarchy, Power, and Pay: The Transformation of American Families, 1800–2015

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This article proposes explanations for the transformation of American families over the past two centuries. I describe the impact on families of the rise of male wage labor beginning in the nineteenth century and the rise of female wage labor in the twentieth century. I then examine the effects of decline in wage labor opportunities for young men and women during the past four decades. I present new estimates of a precipitous decline in the relative income of young men and assess its implications for the decline for marriage. Finally, I discuss explanations for the deterioration of economic opportunity and speculate on the impact of technological change on the future of work and families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1797-1823
Number of pages27
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article is a revised version of my Presidential Address to the Population Association of America, delivered in San Diego on May 1, 2015. Funding for data preparation was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01HD43392, R01HD047283, and R24HD41023). I also had a lot of help from my friends. I presented versions of this article at 10 population center seminars and conferences, and at every venue received feedback that reshaped my thinking. Several people were extraordinarily generous, providing detailed critiques of multiple drafts: Philip Cohen, Stephanie Coontz, Cathy Fitch, Katie Genadek, Claudia Goldin, Fran Goldscheider, Miriam King, Steven Mintz, Phyllis Moen, Lisa Norling, Gina Rumore, Carole Shammas, and Matt Sobek. Two anonymous Demography reviewers also provided wise advice. My greatest debt is to the data creators, curators, integrators, and disseminators of the Minnesota Population Center, without whom it would be impossible to describe long-run family change.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Population Association of America.


  • Family
  • Marriage
  • Relative income
  • Wage labor


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