In 1980, 1.4 million jobs in health care paid a middle-class wage: $40,000 to $80,000 a year in today’s money. Now, the figure is 4.5 million.
The pay of registered nurses — now the third-largest middle-income occupation and one that continues to be overwhelmingly female — has risen strongly along with the increasing demands of the job. The median salary of $61,000 a year in 2012 was 55 percent greater, adjusted for inflation, than it was three decades earlier.
And it was about $9,000 more than the shriveled wages of, say, a phone company repairman, who would have been more likely to head a middle-class family in the 1980s. Back then, more than a quarter of middle-income jobs were in manufacturing, a sector long dominated by men. Today, it is just 13 percent.
As the job market has shifted, women, in general, have more skillfully negotiated the twists and turns of the new economy, rushing to secure jobs in health care and other industries that demand more education and training. Men, by contrast, have been less successful at keeping up.
In many working- and middle-class households, women now earn thebigger paycheck, work longer hours and have greater opportunities for career advancement. As a result, millions of American families are being reconfigured along with the economy.
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“The culture still has traditional attitudes about who does what, who brings home the bacon and who scrambles the eggs,” said Isabel Sawhill, co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution. “The economy is now out of sync with the culture, and I think that’s creating tensions within marriage.”