Discussion paper

DP10443 Gender Identity and Relative Income Within Households

We examine causes and consequences of relative income within households. We show the distribution of the share of income earned by the wife exhibits a sharp drop to the right of 1/2, where the wife's income exceeds the husbands income. We argue that this pattern is best explained by gender identity norms, which induce an aversion to a situation where the wife earns more than her husband. We present evidence that this aversion also impacts marriage formation, the wife's labor force participation, the wife's income conditional on working, marriage satisfaction, likelihood of divorce, and the division of home production. Within marriage markets, when a randomly chosen woman becomes more likely to earn more than a randomly chosen man, marriage rates decline. In couples where the wife's potential income is likely to exceed the husband's, the wife is less likely to be in the labor force and earns less than her potential if she does work. In couples where the wife earns more than the husband, the wife spends more time on household chores; moreover, those couples are less satisfied with their marriage and are more likely to divorce. Those patterns hold both cross-sectionally and within couple over time.


Bertrand, M, E Kamenica and J Pan (2015), ‘DP10443 Gender Identity and Relative Income Within Households‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 10443. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp10443