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As we enter the 21st century with all its challenges and opportunities, the idea of the traditional family has changed. Now, the dual-earner family, with husband and wife each maintaining separate careers and contributing to the financial success of the household, has become commonplace.

The economic commitments and expectations of today’s world often require two incomes to meet the overall expenses of the family. The biggest questions are often, “How will we plan for our own retirement, save for our children’s education, and perhaps help our older parents deal with some of their financial burdens?”

2. Advantages and disadvantages of a dual-earning family

Disadvantages include the risk of getting caught up in financial wants vs. needs, having too much to do, constant child-care worries, always feeling guilty, dealing with fatigue, and the risk of getting caught up in their careers at the expense of their partnership.

Advantages include sharing a mutual goal, having more in common, both men and women enjoying higher self-esteem, having their children involved with real role models, and greater financial opportunities.

3. Do’s and Don’ts for dual-career couples with children


Do share chores and childcare – you are likely to stay closer as a couple and as a family.

Do communicate – explain what you want from your partner, and what is expected from your children.

Do spend some time, however little, with each child, and some time together, ecery day.

Do try to stagger working hours to fit in with childcare arrangements. Consider asking your employer about flexitime or working partly at home.

Do try and wind down on the way home.

Do take a family holiday at least once a year, and short breaks as often as you can.


Don’t try to do everything, don’t expect perfection and don’t feel guilty – either let the dust accumulate or hire domestic help.

Don’t bring work problems home or talk obsessively about work when you are at home.

4. Dual-earner diversity

What is the typical middle-class household? Not long ago, it was a husband who held a job, a wife who kept house, and children who came straight home from school. But 25 years of economic upheaval have changed things. Today, it takes two paychecks to keep up with a mortgage, car payments, and the other trappings of middle-class life.

What’s often overlooked is that two earners no longer guarantee a household’s middle-class status. A household’s total income depends on the income of each earner, and income levels depend largely on how well-educated the earners are. The income advantage of a college education is doubled when two well-educated people live together. When two less-educated workers join forces, the financial boost they get may only keep them from falling further behind.

Education levels determine the ways married couples talk, use media, and make consumer decisions. College- and university educated couples are more likely than other couples to say that their big-ticket purchases are joint decisions, for example. Yet they are less likely to share the decision-making when buying food, perhaps because they are more pressed for time

Couples with fewer than two earners are scattered throughout all educational segments, but they are concentrated in a few demographic categories. Some are living on one paycheck or no paychecks permanently, such as retirees and older”traditional” couples. Those of working ages are likely to be living on one income temporarily, such as parents of preschoolers or couples where one spouse is temporarily unemployed. For purposes of simplicity, we have included all married couples in the following analysis.

5. Dual-earner families is now the norm

Know any stay-at-home moms or dads? If so, you are acquainted with a rare species! Of couples with income, not one in five has a single income. That means there are an awful lot of working couples out there!

Prior to the mid-1970s, however, it was still the norm for only one parent to work. The 70s really were a period of transition — at the start of the decade, less than 40% of families had dual earners, but by 1981, it was up to 55%.

Through the 80s and 90s, almost two-thirds of families have two earners!

This figure is deceptively low, since families where neither spouse has earnings are included in the statistics. These include those living on pensions instead of earnings from income. There are also some families have both parents unemployed. Families where neither spouse has income have grown from under 10% of all families in the 60s to 19% of all families in the 90s.

What these statistics don’t tell is the struggle families face as they try to balance the demands of working and caring for the family. This remains an issue, even among hard-nosed business types, many of whom rate the importance of balance between work and personal life as a very high priority. Statistics adapted from People Patterns Consulting and Statistics Canada.

6. Entrepreneurial couples

If dual-career couples are a phenomenon of the 1970s, entrepreneurial couples may be a phenomenon of the 1990s and leading us into the next century. One of the most rapidly growing groups of the self-employed are women (i.e., sole proprietorships) and couples (i.e., jointly owned sole proprietorships).

The major styles of entrepreneurial couple include the solo-entrepreneur with a supportive spouse, the dual-entrepreneurial couple, the copreneurial couple, and even the dual-career couple considering entrepreneurship.


Reader’s Digest Foods That Harm Foods That Heal – A-Z Guide to Safe and Healthy Living

Anderson, E.A., & Leslie, L.A. (1991). Coping with employment and family stress: Employment arrangement and gender differences. Sex Roles, 24, 233-237.

Career Opportunity News (1997). 5-3,8-15. Chicago IL: Ferguson Publishing.

Carter, J.& J. (1995). He Works She Works: Successful Strategies for Working Couples. New York, NY: American Management Association.

Cook, E.P. (1993). The gendered context of life: Implications for women’s and men’s career-life plans. The Career Development Quarterly, 41, 227-237.

Diane Crispell, Dual-Earner Diversity, American Demographics July 1995

Barnett, F. & Barnett, S. (1988). Working together: Entrepreneurial couples. Berkeley, CA.: Ten Speed Press.

Carland, J. Hoy, F., Boulton, W., & Carland, J. (1984). Differentiating entrepreneurs from small business owners: A conceptualization. Academy of Management Review, 9(2), 354-359.

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