Rosie the Riveter and World War II started it all.
A good 40 years later, the bountiful post-war birth rate, the proliferation of divorces and the women's liberation movement have all combined to redefine the phrase "head of household."
No longer does spouse refer only to a woman and no longer is the male automatically described as the head of household. Those changes are having a great new impact on dual-earner families and their housing and relocation needs.
More working, married couples may be moving less because with more money, they can buy a better house and stay put.
This month's Housing Economics publication of the National Assn. of Home Builders notes that "as wives' jobs and earnings become relatively more important, fewer couples will be willing or able to undertake long-distance moves to further the husband's career," as in the long-accepted tradition.
"Because of this constraint on mobility, one possible effect of the growth of dual-career households may be to increase the attraction of major metropolitan areas where numerous job opportunities are likely to be available for both spouses."
Research by Michael Carliner, NAHB staff vice president, shows that married couple households with working wives are more likely to move to another home "within the same county," but less likely to move to another county or state, than married-couple households where the wife is not in the working force.
The organization's surveys show that among buyers of traditional single-family detached houses, the percentage with two or more wage earners--generally married couples--increased from 45% in 1976 to 62% in 1986.
But despite national increases in single-person households (including divorced persons, widows and widowers), unmarried couples, mingles and other unconventional households, about 85% of new single-family detached houses were purchased by married couples.
The NAHB report says median earnings of wives in married-couple two-earner families in 1986 was still less than half of the median earnings of the husband. This large gap reflects the fact that only about half of the working wives were employed on a fulltime year-round basis. But among couples where both spouses work fulltime, wives earnings are closer to two-thirds of the husbands' wages.
But the wives continue to narrow that gap. In the latest available data, (1986) wide variations were reported among the salary differences of the full-time working couples. In 18% of all couples where both spouses reported some earnings, the wife's salary exceeded her husband's.
In nearly 25% of the cases where both spouses were fulltime workers, the wife earned more.
We may not be anywhere near a profusion of Mr. Moms in American households but, Carliner foresees a trend towards "a larger proportion of wives working, towards more of them working fulltime and towards greater equality in the relative earnings of the two spouses in married couple households."