Wives of the Unemployed

You can find this piece and more on Occam’s Press.

Marcus was an unemployed IT professional with two kids and a wife. He told a story that many men in his situation would recognize.

“I kind of feel that I’m failing in my part to provide for my family because we’re just relying on my wife’s salary and her health care and everything,” Marcus said. “So I feel that I am failing in a sense by not having a job and providing for the family.”

Sylvia, Marcus’ wife, earned six-figures as a manager in a telecommunications company.

And Sylvia was stressed out.

“I felt the weight of the family was solely on me,” she said. “The pressure of ‘I can’t lose my job’ because… both of us can’t be unemployed. … made it stressful.”

In a full year of Marcus’ unemployment, Sylvia gain 30 pounds from “stress eating.”

After the Great Recession, sociologist Aliya Hamid Rao spoke to dozens of white-collar unemployed men and, for thirteen of them, their wives, too.

How do wives deal with their unemployed husbands?

Professor Rao, writing for Journal of Marriage and Family, sought to find out.

Wedding Rings

Bedrock of the Soul

Whether you love your job or hate it, just the fact that you have a job can be a bedrock of the soul. Losing your job, whether this loss was sought after or thrust upon you, can feel bad. It can feel really bad if you lost the job unexpectedly, without fanfare or warning. Grown men in this situation feel fear, sadness, hopelessness, and embarrassment.

To land a job you have to work. You have to network and you have to go on job interviews and sell yourself to the highest bidder. But Rao found that unemployed men who sport a breadwinner mentality can lose the confidence to look for a job.

The story goes like this:

The husband struggles to find a new job.

The wife struggles to deadlift her husband’s sagging spirits and gets him to look for a job.

“Why is Brian the greatest employee ever?”

Rao the social scientist met Brian and Emily.

Brian has been out of work for a while and feels frustrated at the job search: “[you have] to sit there in an interview and try to bullshit why is Brian the greatest employee ever? That part just for me is very probably the worst part of the whole thing,” Brian said.

Brian’s wife, Emily, sustains the family at a third of the income they once enjoyed. She loses sleep over it.

“It’s very scary,” Emily said. “I sit up in the kitchen and I think ‘We’re going to have to give up this house,’ you know, what are we going to do? We’re going to rent some shitty little apartment?” (646)

Emily understood Brian. “He doesn’t have the get-up-and-go to go do it [the job search] ’Cause he’s in such a dump,” Emily said. “So I am trying to still be very positive.” (646)

In tough situations it’s tough to be positive. And Emily is frustrated.

“But he is not a strong like a man like who just says, ‘Oh I don’t care. I’ve been fired? I don’t care. Screw them. I’ll go find another job.’” Emily said. “He is very sensitive and emotional. And he’s like a girl! Like man up!…”

Emotional Rescue

While the men were supposed to be trawling the internet for jobs, the duty of family organizer and confidence booster fell to the wives, many of whom had a steady job that could support the family, though at a lower income bracket than a dual-earner couple would make.

Some wives said that they are half of a husband-wife team — a partnership that will find a way out of their troubles. Wives made sure their husbands call and tell them about their day.

The husbands felt lost in their newly unstructured time; the wives tried to put their husbands on a schedule to look for a job.  All the while, the wives hid their own stressful emotions as best they could.

Managing stress is the wives’ homework. There’s a term for it coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild: “emotional labor.” In this kind of labor, Rao writes, the wives of the unemployed draw strength and humor from wherever they can find it.

One woman compared the situation to the taming of the fox in the children’s book, The Little Prince:

“It’s kind of like taming the little creature in The Little Prince: You meet at the same time every day and you’re expected to be there,” she said. “I don’t know that I’ve tamed him or whatever [chuckles] but [the call] is something I look forward to. ’Cause I like to hear what he has to say.”

“It’s an important call for me,” she added.

A Fine Line

Taming and nagging can be a fine line that neither the wives nor the husbands want crossed.

Rao met Shannon. Shannon has a job but her husband, William, is unemployed. Shannon treads carefully.

“I always ask him, you know, ‘What’d you do today?’ or, but I don’t want it to come across like ‘Did you do anything to find a job?’…” Shannon said.

“And I’m just trying to make conversation, where I’m sure he’s thinking “Just get off my back,” Shannon said. “So, that’s been hard.”

Teamwork it is, with wives batting clean-up.


This piece is based on Aliya Hamid Rao’s “Stand By Your Man: Wives’ Emotion Work During Men’s Unemployment” published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (pp. 636 – 656) in 2017. Joshua K. Dubrow authored this short popularization of that article, and is solely responsible for this interpretation of Professor Rao’s work. Professor Rao’s book, Crunch Time: How Married Couples Confront Unemployment (University of California Press), is due out June 2020.

“I kind of feel that I’m failing…” (644)

“I felt the weight of the family…” (648)

In a full year of Marcus’ unemployment… (650)

“[you have] to sit there in an interview…” (644)

“It’s very scary…” (646)

“But he is not a strong like a man…” (646)

Though at a lower income bracket (646)

“It’s kind of like taming…” (647)

“I always ask him…” (652)

“And I’m just trying to make conversation…” (652)

Book: Dynamics of Class and Stratification in Poland

Dynamics of class and stratThis book published by CEU Press is about long-term changes to class and inequality in Poland.


Drawing upon major social surveys, the team of authors from the Polish Academy of Sciences offer the rare comprehensive study of important changes to the social structure from the communist era to the present.

Team of Authors: Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, Kazimierz M. Słomczyński, Henryk Domański, Joshua Kjerulf Dubrow, Zbigniew Sawiński, and Dariusz Przybysz
ISBN: 978-963-386-155-4
cloth $70.00 / €62.00 / £54.00
Publication date: 2018
310 pages

Even during extreme societal transformations, key features of social life have long-lasting and stratifying effects. The authors analyze the core issues of inequality research that best explain “who gets what and why:” social mobility, status attainment, and mechanisms of inequality with a focus on education, occupation, and income.

The transition from communist political economy to liberal democracy and market capitalism offers a unique opportunity for scholars to understand how people move from one stratification regime to the next.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from linking past to present. Classic issues of class, stratification, mobility, and attainment have endured decades of radical social change. These concepts remain valid even when society tries to eradicate them.

Does Going Abroad Boost Your Income and Help Your Career? The Value of International Experience

by Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, Associate Professor, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences

Does going abroad, even for a little while, give you an edge in the job market?

As a small world gets smaller, employers across the US and Europe are looking for that “international experience” element in the resumes of job applicants. Corporations are sending their employees outside headquarters to do business in established and emerging economies. Universities push for international research and training collaborations, and academia and the private sector increasingly seek out personnel who can perform well in multi-national and multi-cultural environments.

Working or living abroad gives people skills and knowledge that businesses can use as they look for new markets and opportunities across the world. International experience seems like a good investment, but to date outside of the USA, empirical studies on its relationship to income and upward mobility are few.

In my article, “International Experience and Labour Market Success: Analysing Panel Data from Poland,” I used the longest running panel survey in Poland (POLPAN 1988 – 2013) to discover the impact of having spent at least two months in a foreign country (my definition of “international experience”) on two major life outcomes.

The first thing I looked for was relative income gains. Above and beyond gender, age, and education, I wanted to know whether people who went abroad earned more than those who did not. The answer is a strong yes: People who went abroad, even for as little as two months, have a higher income than those who did not go abroad, other things equal.

Next, I investigated the odds of becoming an employer or entrepreneur above and beyond the effects of age, gender, and education. Again, the answer is a strong yes: Having international experience boosts the odds of becoming an employer or entrepreneur.

As with a recent study in the US by economist Susan Pozo, I find that those with international experience have higher income than those without this experience. I also find that international experience leads to upward mobility, in the form of becoming an entrepreneur.

Since 1989, millions of East Europeans have traveled abroad seeking new skills, insights, and economic opportunities. Many of them come back. While the tales of making one’s fortune abroad fill popular culture and the media, there are surprisingly few empirical studies on whether and how being in another country impacts one’s income and career. Part of the reason is that there too few long-term panel datasets that document career paths and include episodes of being abroad. The case of Poland, via its unique panel data called POLPAN, suggests that international experience significantly matters for East Europeans as they navigate the labour market of their home country.

This article is based on the paper, International Experience and Labour Market Success: Analysing Panel Data from Poland, in the Polish Sociological Review.

Irina Tomescu-Dubrow


Irina Tomescu-Dubrow is an Associate Professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences and conducts research on inequality, attainment, and mobility in historical and cross-national perspectives.

In America, 20 Percent Reach “Affluence” at Least Once in Their Life

It depends on what you call affluence.  If you make 250,000 USD a year, this study considers you affluent:


WASHINGTON (AP) – Fully 20 percent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding extensive influence over America’s economy and politics, according to new survey data.  These “new rich,” made up largely of older professionals, working married couples and more educated singles, are becoming politically influential, and economists say their capacity to spend is key to the U.S. economic recovery. But their rise is also a sign of the nation’s continuing economic polarization.

They extend well beyond the wealthiest 1 percent, a traditional group of super-rich millionaires and billionaires with long-held family assets. The new rich have household income of $250,000 or more at some point during their working lives, putting them – if sometimes temporarily – in the top 2 percent of earners.

The new survey data on the affluent are being published in an upcoming book, and an analysis by The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research provided additional information on the views of the group.

Continue reading “In America, 20 Percent Reach “Affluence” at Least Once in Their Life”

America Has Lower Economic Mobility Than Other Countries of the West

According to a recent study published by Sage:

The American Dream is supposed to mean that through hard work and perseverance, even the poorest people can make it to middle class or above. But it’s actually harder to move up in America than it is in most other advanced nations.  It’s easier to rise above the class you’re born into in countries like Japan, Germany, Australia, and the Scandinavian nations, according to research from University of Ottawa economist and current Russell Sage Foundation Fellow Miles Corak.

Among the major developed countries, only in Italy and the United Kingdom is there less economic mobility, according to Corak.  The research measures “intergenerational earnings elasticity” — a type of economic mobility that measures the correlation between what your parents make and what you make one generation later — in a number of different countries around the world.

Continue reading “America Has Lower Economic Mobility Than Other Countries of the West”

Location, Location: Geographic Factors of Social Mobility

From the NYTimes:

“A study finds the odds of rising to another income level are notably low in certain cities, like Atlanta and Charlotte, and much higher in New York and Boston.

…geography appears to play a major role in making Atlanta one of the metropolitan areas where it is most difficult for lower-income households to rise into the middle class and beyond, according to a new study that other researchers are calling the most detailed portrait yet of income mobility in the United States.

The study — based on millions of anonymous earnings records and being released this week by a team of top academic economists — is the first with enough data to compare upward mobility across metropolitan areas. These comparisons provide some of the most powerful evidence so far about the factors that seem to drive people’s chances of rising beyond the station of their birth, including education, family structure and the economic layout of metropolitan areas.

Climbing the income ladder occurs less often in the Southeast and industrial Midwest, the data shows, with the odds notably low in Atlanta, Charlotte, Memphis, Raleigh, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus.

By contrast, some of the highest rates occur in the Northeast, Great Plains and West, including in New York, Boston, Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and large swaths of California and Minnesota.”

Read the entire article here.

Pew Research on the 2012 U.S. Elections

For excellent analysis of all the most critical issues to the 2012 U.S. elections in America, see “Campaign 2012” of the Pew Research Center.


  • Are Americans better off today?  Well, they’re not worse off.  And partisanship has much to do with their view:  “Republicans consistently rate their personal finances more positively than do Democrats or independents, largely reflecting Republicans’ higher average income levels. But the gap has narrowed since the start of the recession in December 2007, as Republicans have come to view their financial situations less positively.”
  • In a word:  Obama  has gone from “inexperienced” and “change” in 2008 to “good/good man” and “trying/tried/tries” in 2012.  Romney?  “honest,” “businessman,” “rich.”
  • Tax hikes on those making $250,000 a year?  44% say it would help economy, 22% say hurt, and 24% say no difference.

There’s much more on the website, including the latest voter polls.