The Double-Edged Sword of Dual-Income Households

Could dual-income households, created mostly by the rise of working women, reduce labor mobility? That's the argument, via Ryan Avent at the Economist, who imagines the plight of an unemployed construction worker married to a working spouse.

Construction in Nevada may be a stagnant industry for years to come, and the male may have little hope of finding a new job. Elsewhere in the country, however, real estate markets are tighter and will recover, and begin adding employment, far sooner. But were the household to relocate, both earners would find themselves needing to find new jobs in a market in which the ratio of job seekers to vacancies remains quite high. The risk to relocation is significant. And so the household may stay put, essentially conceding that the male half will remain unemployed for the foreseeable future.

To be clear, this isn't to say that dual-income homes are bad. They're good! It's good that more women are going to school for more years, good that more women are finding work, and good that two working parents means there's still income if one gets laid off. But if dual-income provides insurance against the likelihood that somebody loses a job, it also makes it less likely that one spouse takes a position, even a perfect position, in another city or state.

This doesn't provide an argument against marriage or co-habitation any more than it should provide an argument against owning a home, or really liking your apartment, both of which would also discourage you from seriously looking for work around the country. But inasmuch as we value labor mobility and aligning worker skills with employer needs across the country, it's an interesting observation I hadn't seen before.