Two-income families are better off financially. Are they happier too?

We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness. - Dr. Bob Moorehead

Jeanine and I both plan on working after we adopt our child. Why? We need both incomes to continue living the way we do. Or at a minimum, to stay in our house that happens to be in a really good school district. If it weren’t for the housing part, we could certainly get by on one income.

Much has been written about two-income families. She Works / He Works: How Two-Income Families Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off by Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers first came into print over decade ago. Better off than whom? Or so, as the topic is explored by this reviewer:

Better off than whom? Single-income families, especially those with a stay-at-home mother. The authors are convinced that their family model is self-evidently superior to any other, and they marshal an array of data to support their titular claims. (Just as conservatives cannot bring themselves to believe some women enjoy working, liberals seem incapable of believing some women want to stay at home.)

She Works/He Works is interesting for two basic reasons. First, it explores some of the adaptive functions of changing family structures. Drawing on a National Institutes of Mental Health-sponsored study conducted by Barnett, the authors suggest that “the dual-earner family offers economic stability, protection against financial disaster, and often offers both adults and children a close-knit cooperative family style in which all members take an active part in keeping the household running.”

They argue that the “collaborative” style–in which spouses share household tasks and responsibilities–common in two-earner households might lead to increased interdependence, not fragmentation. (One sign of this is the steady increase in traditionally female household duties performed by men.) While such claims have a ring of truth, they remain highly arguable, especially when it comes to divorce.
One book reviewer at Amazon agreed, but threw in the question that every mother wrestles with:
In summary, women are happier in challenging jobs, their husbands are happier that they are no longer the only source of income for the family in a time of frequent downsizing and economic uncertainty. Unfortunately, while the facts are optimistic when it comes to the improvement in physical, mental, and economic health for the adults in the family, it is extremely alarming for the well-being of young children.
Whatever your belief is about child-care, there’s another side to the happiness part. According to this interview at Mother Jones, working parents aren’t chasing bliss. Rather this is the reality of modern life in America:
Middle-class parents are stretched thin these days. Between health care costs, child care hassles, looking for a home in a good district, and paying for college, raising a child is becoming increasingly expensive. Little wonder, then, that married couples with children are more than twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as their childless counterparts, and 75 percent more likely to have their homes foreclosed…

In the face of such hardships, many families have sent both parents into the workforce to try to make ends meet. After all, surely if both parents work full-time it shouldn’t be hard to ensure financial security, right? Wrong, say authors Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi, in their book, The Two Income Trap. Two-income families are almost always worse off than their single-income counterparts were a generation ago, even though they pull in 75 percent more in income.

The problem is that so many fixed costs are rising — health care, child care, finding a good home — that two-income families today actually have less discretionary money left over than those single-earner families did. As the authors write: “Our data show families in financial trouble are working hard, playing by the rules — and the game is stacked against them.”
Here’s the scholarly article Elizabeth wrote for Harvard Magazine called The Middle Class on the Precipice: Rising financial risks for American families. Below, I’ve reprinted her 10 Reasons America’s Two-Income Families Aren’t What You Think:
1. Two-income families today make 75% more in inflation-adjusted dollars, but have less money to spend than one-income families did 30 years ago.
2. Two-income families today spend: 21% less on clothing, 22% less on food, and 44% less on appliances compared to one-income families a generation ago.

3. Every 15 seconds an American family files for bankruptcy.

4. This year, more kids will live through their parents’ bankruptcy, than through their Parents’ divorce.

5. 1.6 million families will file for bankruptcy this year, 9 million more are already in credit counseling.

6. Home mortgage foreclosures are up more than three-fold over the last generation and car foreclosures have hit record levels.

7. More than 62% of families say that they worry about making ends meet.
8. The average family spends 69% more in inflation-adjusted dollars on their home mortgage than their parents spent a generation ago.
9. The average family spends 61% more on health insurance, than their parents spent a generation ago.

10. Credit card default rates are at a record high.
So what do you think? Your two cents on this topic? Happier when She Works / She Works? He Works / He Works? She Works / He Works? Or should one parent stay home?