Scaling back: Dual-earner couples' work-family strategies

Penny Edgell Becker, Phyllis Moen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

362 Scopus citations


Recent work has focused substantially on one subset of dual-earners, the high-powered two-career couple. We use in-depth interviews with more than 100 people in middle-class dual-earner couples in upstate New York to investigate the range of couples' work-family strategies. We find that the majority are not pursuing two high-powered careers but are typically engaged in what we call scaling back - strategies that reduce and restructure the couple's commitment to paid work over the life course, and thereby buffer the family from work encroachments. We identify three separate scaling-back strategies: placing limits; having a one-job, one-career marriage; and trading off. Our findings support and extend other research by documenting how gender and life-course factors shape work-family strategies. Wives disproportionately do the scaling back, although in some couples husbands and wives trade family and career responsibilities over the life course. Those in the early childrearing phase are most apt to scale back, but a significant proportion of couples at other life stages also use these work-family strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)995-1006
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Marriage and Family
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1999


  • Dual-earner families
  • Life course
  • Scaling back
  • Work-family strategies

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