fb-pixel Skip to main content

When wives earn more than their husbands, they underreport their income, Census finds


A surprising new development in the gender wage gap issue? “Manning up” and “womaning down.”

At least, that’s what Census researchers are calling a phenomenon they recently uncovered. As the researchers compared reported incomes on a Census population survey to people’s IRS filings, they found that when a woman makes more than her husband, she underreports her income, while the man says he earns more than he actually does, according to new research released by the bureau.

Researchers found that when wives are the bigger breadwinners, husbands report making an average of 2.9 percent more than what’s in their tax filings. Meanwhile, women who make more than their husbands report earning 1.5 percent less than their actual income.


For example, researchers said in a statement released Monday, a husband in Fargo, N.D., who makes less than his wife would report making an average of $30,870, when in reality he made $30,000. If that same Fargo husband’s wife pulls in $40,000 annually, she would report, on average, to make about $39,400, researchers said.

So why does this phenomenon happen? Researchers say they suspect societal expectations about the roles each person plays in a marriage could be a main factor.

“When married couples . . . violate the norm that husbands outearn their wives, the survey respondents reporting the couples’ earnings appear to minimize the violation by inflating the earnings of the lower-earning husbands and deflating the earnings of the higher-earning wives,” researchers wrote in their findings.

In about one out of four couples surveyed, wives made more money than their husbands, according to the research, which was based on the Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

Despite signaling a troubling new development in a national issue, the findings also show the difficulty of collecting unbiased data for the Census, which has begun using secondary sources like tax filings in an effort to double-check reported earnings.


“These findings suggest that gendered social norms can influence survey reports of seemingly objective outcomes,” researchers wrote in their findings.