The number of women taking on the role of the sole breadwinner in the family has risen, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The trend has been accelerated by the recession, but what's unclear is whether the shift will continue, said Kristin Smith, a family demographer at the University of New Hampshire. "Whether this trend is short lived or is lasting will depend on how the economy comes out of the recession," she said.
If the male-dominated jobs in manufacturing and construction industries don't pick up, the nation could see a continued reliance on women as the only wage earners for families, Smith said.
In 2009, 7 percent of married couples with children had only the wife employed, up from 5 percent in 2007, according to census data.
The percentage of married couples with children in which both parents work dropped from 63 percent in 2007 to 59 percent in 2009. The percentage of unemployed husbands with children doubled from 2007 to 2009, from 3 percent to 6 percent; the percentage of wives who were unemployed also doubled in the same time period.
As husbands lost their jobs, the role of the wife's income became critical to keeping families afloat, Smith said. In a study based on census data and released in December, Smith found that in 2008, employed wives contributed 45 percent of total family earnings, up from 44 percent in 2007. It was the largest single-year increase in 10 years, she found.