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February 1989, Vol. 112, No. 2
Families of working wives spending more on services and nondurables
Eva Jacobs and others
During the post-World War II era, there has been a dramatic increase in women's labor force participation. This has generated a great deal of public interest in the social and economic consequences of the employment of women. High rates of labor force participation are prevalent for women both with and without children. Today, more than half of all mothers with children under age 3 work outside the home, compared with fewer than one-fourth of such mothers in 1967. (See table 1.)
The Consumer Expenditure Survey provides data that permit us to examine the effects of a wife's labor force participation on the income and expenditures of her family. The data used in this study are from the 1984-86 Consumer Expenditure Survey.1 To determine the economic effects on the family of a wage-earning wife, two groups of consumer units2 are compared: (1) husband-wife families in which only the husband is an earner, and (2) husband-wife families in which both the husband and wife (and no others) are earners. These families will be referred to as one- and two-earner families, respectively. Families in which the wife is the only earner are not included in this study. In our analysis, expenditures generally perceived to be associated with the wife working outside the home are studied; these include expenditures on women's apparel, child care, purchase of vehicles, gasoline, public transportation, housing, and Social Security and pension plan costs. We will also discuss the additional income received from the wife's employment.
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1 'The data used in this study were drawn from the Interview portion of the 1984, 1985, and 1986 Consumer Expenditure Survey. The Interview survey is the most comprehensive survey of demographic characteristics of American consumer units. The Interview sample, selected on a rotating panel basis, is targeted at 5,000 consumer units per quarter. Each quarter, one-fifth of the sample is new to the survey. Consumer units who participate in the survey are interviewed five times, once per quarter; the first interview is used only for bounding purposes. Data for interviews 2 through 5 are used for publication and analysis. Over the 1984-86 time frame, data for a consumer unit maybe available from one to four times. Each quarter is considered as a separate sample when estimates are calculated.
2 The terms "household," "family," and "consumer unit" are used interchangeably throughout the text.
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