The Racial Differences in Couples' Earnings

On the twitter, Tressie asked an interesting question about race and family earnings:

The question piqued my own curiosity and so I decided to find out using the 2012 ASEC microdata. To make things easier, I only analyzed same-race couples in which at least one of the spouses had positive earnings. White refers to non-hispanic white; black refers to non-hispanic black; and Latino refers to hispanic white. (This is how the Census categorizes people; so, send your complaints there.)

The first question to answer is what percent of families have a sole wife earner, what percent have a sole husband earner, and what percent have dual earners.

Whites have the highest concentration of dual-earner families. Latinos have the highest concentration of husband-earner families by a huge margin. Blacks have the highest concentration of wife-earner families by a substantial margin (16 percent versus 9.9 percent for whites and 8.3 percent for Latinos). 

The second question is, among dual-earner families, what percent of the earned income is contributed by the wife.

For whites, it is 38 percent. For blacks, it is 43.5 percent. For Latinas, it is 40.1 percent. So there is a slight skew in spousal income contribution by race among dual-earner families, but the skew is not massive.

However, if you combine this skew with the prior graph, you do see that black woman in couples contribute considerably more towards family earnings than white or Latina women. Black women are over 60 percent more likely than white or Latina women to be the sole earner in the family and they contribute more income than any other women in dual-earner families.

The other story worth noting is the prominent Latino skew towards husband-earner families. Over 40 percent of Latino families are organized along these lines, while whites and blacks only organize 23-24 percent of their families this way.

I am not sure what overarching conclusions to draw from this other than to note that there are some significant differences in wives' contribution to family income that headline figures not broken out by race might miss.