Sociology Ph.D. Dissertations


A Contemporary Portrait of Couples' Relative Earning Patterns and their Implications for Work-Family Conflict in the United States

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Kei Nomaguchi (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Karen Guzzo (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Monica Longmore (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Wendy Manning (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Gajjala Radhika (Other)


Women’s increased labor force participation in the latter half of the 20th century resulted in a shift from male-sole-earner to dual-earner couples in the United States. There has been limited research since 2001 examining relative earning patterns within different-gender married and cohabiting couples. The first goal of this dissertation was to provide a contemporary portrait of couples’ relative earning patterns using the 2017 Current Population Survey (CPS). Prior research found that as of 2001, men were main contributors in more than half (55%) of dual-earner couples. I found that by 2017 this number decreased to less than half (47%); and that higher levels of women’s education, women being more educated than their partners, having no or fewer children, cohabiting (versus married), and African American individuals were associated with a greater odds of couples being egalitarian (dual or equal providing) or non-traditional (women providing the majority or women sole) in their earning arrangements. Implications of the shift from the male-sole-earner to dual-earner partnerships for the well-being of partnerships have been studied; but little research has examined how individuals’ earnings relative to their partners relate to work-family conflict. The second goal of this dissertation was to examine the associations between relative earnings and both directions of work-family conflict—work-to-family conflict (WFC) and family-to-work conflict (FWC)—and whether these associations varied by gender. Using data from the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW), I found that main contributors worked longer work hours and had more perceived job strain, than secondary contributors. Main contributors experienced more WFC than secondary contributors, but when work hours and perceived job strain were controlled for, the higher WFC of main contributors than secondary contributors disappeared. Secondary contributors shoulder more FWC—housework and childcare—than main contributors; but relative earnings were not associated with FWC. I did not find gender differences in the association between relative earnings and WFC or FWC. These findings may suggest movement towards gender equality in terms of what makes work-family balance difficult. Overall, the findings from this dissertation provided a more nuanced understanding of gender equality within partnership in the United States.