The increase underlines the changing nature of the British workforce: male unemployment has increased markedly, while the number of women in work, particularly part-time, has risen sharply.
The report, by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, suggests the trend will continue. 'Despite a major growth in female employment in the last two decades, men still receive the lion's share of household incomes,' Steven Webb, an institute researcher, said. 'But the balance is shifting and there is every likelihood that the gap will close still further in coming years.'
The report, in the November edition of Fiscal Studies, shows that, in 1991, pounds 2 out of every pounds 3 of a family's income was received by men, while the remaining pounds 1 went into the hands of women. That compares with pounds 3 out of every pounds 4 brought home by men in 1971. Women brought home only one out of every three pounds coming into UK households in 1991 - yet this represents a significant stride ahead in their earning power.
The research found that average weekly income was pounds 147, but while men took in about pounds 200, women received just half of that.
More than two-thirds of men's income came from wages or self-employment. But only half of women's income came from earnings, and almost a quarter from social security benefits. The amount from benefits varied widely, depending on whether the women were married or had children.
The decline in the male contribution reflects the fact that, in 1971, 93 per cent of men - excluding pensioners and students - were employed full-time, but 20 years later that had slumped to 75 per cent.
The increase in women's employment since 1971 has been mainly among married women with children. Employment among single parents has fallen back sharply.
The institute predicts that the gap between men's and women's incomes is likely to narrow further in the next 10 years, especially if demand for part-time work grows as expected. More single parents may be able to work longer hours as a result of changes to government benefit and maintenance arrangements, and married women with children would seem to be prime candidates for part-time jobs.
However, growing responsibility for elderly relatives and limited availablity of affordable child-care facilities may continue to restrict the job opportunities for many women, the study said.
Jill Chesworth, spokeswoman for the Equal Opportunities Commission, said: 'If there was a decently funded child-care system in this country, more women would work full-time. That surely would help make their income more equal with the man in the household.'
The institute's study was based on the Government's UK Family Expenditure Survey for 1991 which interviewed 13,000 adults.
Fiscal Studies; Institute of Fiscal Studies, 7 Ridgmount Street, London WC1E 7AE.
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