Households’ responses to spousal job loss: ‘all change’ or ‘carry on as usual’?

Presenter
Karon Gush, University of Essex

Authors
Karon Gush

Co Authors
James Scott, Heather Laurie

Keywords
Couple-households, labour supply, recession, job loss, qualititave interviews

Job loss or reductions to paid working hours can pose a serious threat to the economic stability of a household, creating an incentive for couples to jointly re-evaluate the way in which paid and unpaid labour is shared between them and adjust to their changed circumstances. It is generally accepted that the UK recession which began in 2008 has been accompanied by a squeeze in living standards but little is known about the ways in which households have responded in the current economic climate. This paper explores household behaviour and expectations with respect to (a) the level of anticipation surrounding job loss and (b) the extent to which couples adopt long or short term labour market perspectives. Drawing on in-depth qualitative interviews conducted with a purposive sample selected from the Understanding Society Innovation Panel, couples’ experiences and expectations are examined where one couple-member had undergone a change in job, working hours or employment status since spring 2008. The findings suggest that even where there is a reasonably high level of awareness that job loss is a very real prospect, when it actually happens it can still prove to be a ‘shock’. Furthermore, the extent to which couples favour long or short term approaches towards their labour supply appears to be strongly linked to work identities. Regardless of whether job loss is anticipated, couples seek to maintain/regain their pre-existing share of paid and unpaid household labour preferring to employ income smoothing techniques over both the long and short term. Such techniques can include a complex mix of cutting household expenditure on everyday and/or big ticket items, relying more heavily on support from other family members and drawing on savings and investments.