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A Note on Household Income and Women Entering the Workforce

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Last May, Andrew Hacker wrote a thoughtful essay [2] on income inequality for the New York Review of Books.  I wrote the following letter in response:

Dear Editor:

In his generally admirable essay on income inequality, Andrew Hacker discounts the significance of the 23 percent rise in median family incomes between 1982 and 2004 by saying that “this growth was almost entirely the result of the presence of additional earners, with more wives turning to full-time work” (“The Rich and Everyone Else, May 25, 2006).

True. But to the extent that women were released from housework by the greater availability of electrical appliances and better prepared foods, these gains in median household earnings represent real improvements for ordinary Americans. After all, housework – although uncompensated – has genuine and considerable value. Because much of the housework that in the past was done by “non-working” women is now done by appliances, supermarkets, and the like, the typical American household today still receives the value of housework plus the additional income women earn by working outside of the home.

I might also have added that the rate at which women entered the workforce was pretty much the same from 1982 on as it was for much of the 20th century.  For evidence, see the report mentioned here [3].

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