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The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke
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The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  2,139 ratings  ·  349 reviews
More than two decades ago, the women's movement flung open the doors of the workplace. Although this social revolution created a firestorm of controversy, no one questioned the idea that women's involvement in the workforce was certain to improve families' financial lot. Until now.In this brilliantly argued book, Harvard Law School bankruptcy expert Elizabeth Warren and bu ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published September 3rd 2003 by Basic Books (first published September 1st 2003)
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Jason Holt
Feb 06, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: economics, government
I gained interest in this book, and with Dr. Warren's work in general, when I watched a lecture taped at UC Berkeley back in 2007 (see here). Her conclusion was that the common notion of explaining family bankruptcies and indebtedness on frivolous over-consumption was simply a myth. Needless expenditures, Warren contends, weren't a significant contributor to family indebtedness, but, instead, the cost of staples (like transportation, housing, health care, etc.) had increased to unsustainable lev ...more
Jun 17, 2008 rated it liked it
If you have two incomes in a home, make sure your life is such that you can live on one of the incomes and sock the other income away in savings and investments. Which is extremely good advice (and yes it can be done--you don't need half of that crap people tell you you need).

Don't have kids, but if you must, see if you can refrain from vastly overleveraging yourself to keep your kids competitive in some future labor marketplace. If the houses in the neighborhoods with excellent schools are far
Feb 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, economics
With all the talk about Elizabeth Warren running for president, I decided to revisit The Two-Income Trap, a book that has had a very mixed reception amongst my circle of friends. (Disclosure, in case you think I am personally biased: I am a stay at home mother of two.)

This was published in 2003, which presents a problem for a review: Was the assessment correct at the time, and how well has it held up since? The short answer is mixed, for both of them. Essentially, the premise is this: the two i
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great myth-busting book by Warren and her daughter. Some of it bit dated now, but the message is still important: people blame debtors for their bad behavior and bad decisions. This is easier than realizing that things are much harder for certain people and life is hard and gets even harder when people are just skating by. I thought their focus on the loss of stay at homes moms as insurance was fascinating. It steps away from the culture wars to discuss what it means economically for families to ...more
Feb 16, 2013 rated it did not like it
This book had the potential to be SO interesting, with a lot of thoughtful points about middle class families. Instead, it's a pompous piece of self-indulgent writing from a pair of know-it-alls. I tend towards liberalism and this book still pissed me off. If they're not insulting conservatives and making snide remarks about those of us who believe in concepts like personal responsibility, they are advocating for a paternalistic government that tells us what we can and cannot do because we're in ...more
Brian Hodges
Feb 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book was a real eye-opener to the common credit and real estate mistakes that people (especially married couples) have been making ever since we switched over to a two-income nation. I didn't realize it at the time, but this book was oddly prescient in regards to the current housing and financial crisis we're in now and I thank god I read it when I did. It seriously "scared me straight" in regards to buying a house. And while all my friends and family were leaping head first into the housin ...more
Jul 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics
This book is now five years old, longer than the shelf life of most “policy” books -- most personal finance books, too. So I was fully prepared to find the facts stale, the predictions obsolete. Wrong. Even though it was written before the term subprime entered the lexicon, this book explains why those mortgages were bound to cause problems: Families fail financially when they commit themselves to mortgages and other long-term fixed costs that they won’t be able to pay during the bad times. And ...more
R.J. Gilbert
Nov 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
I read this book in 2003 and was disappointed then. I was only reminded of reading it when the eldest author appeared in the news recently. It still sits on my shelf with my notes inside it from the research I have been doing on the same problem. While it is true that this book somewhat predicts the housing crisis that came about in 2008, I was not surprised since I had been studying the "double-income economic disorder" since 1999. While some might say that it is a shame more people had listene ...more
Mar 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book does an excellent job explaining the squeeze on the middle class since the 1970s. It dispels the myth that Americans just spend too much and instead points to real change that makes it much harder for middle-class families to stay afloat: rising health care costs, and college tuition and the lack of "insurance policy" formerly provided by a stay-at-home parent.

But the trap is really sprung when two-income couples have children. When buying a house in America, you really buy a school. A
Donald Powell
The rules we live by are written and enforced by us. Governance, by politicians, local, state and Federal define how our life must be managed. This book, while it is seventeen years old, is just as valid now as before. It is based upon study, real gathered information, and a thorough analysis of how things actually work. Until we get money out of the control of our governance we will continue to have gross and indefensible inequality, sometimes worsening inequality. Money controls those who writ ...more
Nov 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
"The Two-Income Trap" is a book I've been meaning to read for years. I discovered it in college when I read the first fifty pages or so in a Barnes & Noble between classes. I found it fascinating, and vowed to eventually read it in full. And now I have!

There's so much in this book that its hard for me to know where to start. Written by the mother daughter team of Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, "The Two-Income Trap" examines the current financial weaknesses of the middle class, and the
Dec 26, 2017 rated it liked it
I am glad I read this book, if only to solidify the intuition I already had about our family’s finances as a SAHM. The book offers a lot of policy suggestions (fix public education so the bidding war on real estate ends, reregulate banks/loans), and finally the last chapter offers the solutions I was looking for in the book. However, this book was published almost 15 years ago and could really use an update in statistics. Most numbers compared late 1990s data with 1970s data, and I imagine thing ...more
Mar 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Harvard economist's take on rising rates of bankruptcy among middle class couples. Interesting read, especially since it was written a few years ago now and foreshadowed some of the present problems in the housing market. I particularly liked that it justified my suspicions that couples today are having a harder go of it than our parents did, despite greater levels of education and two steady incomes. Includes good tips for how to stay financially solvent. ...more
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
So, I'm going to vote for Warren and no one else in the upcoming primary, and you should too! This book is bit dated, but still charming and full of wit and lovely jabs at Clinton and Biden hypocrisies. It's educational too! ...more
Oct 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: growth-crisis
This book provides support for a lot of intuitions I've had for a while now. Put briefly, the book shows that the believing in the 'small government' meme is extremely dangerous, because it provides "intuitive" support for the progressive dismantling of all the useful parts of government, while all the parts that aren't useful are certain to be maintained by politicians who know where their next campaign finance check comes from.
Elizabeth Warren attacks this idea pretty successfully. She explain
Jul 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Family economics is of particular interest to me for two reasons: (1) I keep losing my job so it seems like we are always struggling, and (2) As a case manager, I work (when I am working) with mostly economically dis-advantaged people for whom I feel it is part of my job to educate for their own protection. So, I really loved this book.

In this book the authors point out that the disappearing middle class is a result of not over-consumption but our desire for safety and education coupled with the
Nov 10, 2009 rated it liked it
he Two-Income Trap is a book about the economic pressures facing families today, but above all it's an indictment of an increasingly predatory credit-card industry. (One of the book's authors was prominently featured in the recent Frontline report about credit cards.) The authors show how having a second wage earner hasn't been the boon that families expected. Parents--crunched by a competitive housing market and expensive college tuition--devote 75% of their income to fixed commitments like the ...more
Leila T.
Aug 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read this in 2007, around the time that I saw the documentary "Maxed Out" and also around the time my husband was reading several financial blogs that presaged the current recession(for e.g., Calculated Risk). Actually, the author, Elizabeth Warren, was interviewed on that documentary, and she was so compelling I sought out her book.

This book is very good, helping one understand how house prices became so insanely inflated---the bubble---and also giving reasons to be sympathetic, rather than
Mar 02, 2009 rated it liked it
I was assigned this book for a seminar on work and economic security, but I'd been hoping to read it for a long time. The issues of family economics and gender dynamics seem to me a wellspring for interesting research and study, though not as much is done as could be (Arlie Hochschild's books on this subject are well worth reading, for those looking). To top it off, I took Elizabeth Warren's bankruptcy class in law school and wanted to see what kind of book she'd write.

Her book is very good, if
Aug 13, 2009 rated it liked it
I've argued for some time that feminism was a bad deal economically for the average American family. Over time, it roughly doubled the pool of available labor, halving wages. It also put families that tried to rely on one breadwinner at a competitive disadvantage for purchasing certain assets - homes for example. The Two-Income Trap explores some of these ideas, but glosses over others, all the while exempting families from poor decisions and blaming them solely on macroeconomic forces. I expect ...more
May 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
I decided to read this book to find out why there is such a fuss in dc over Elizabeth Warren's nomination to head the new consumer protection agency. After finishing, I am convinced that she is the perfect person to head this agency. She seems to have devoted her career to thoughts on the economics of the American family. She does not just blame blame lenders or borrowers for bankruptcies and other financial hardships. Instead she lays out statistics and facts that describe how families find the ...more
May 29, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: society
This offered a different perspective on why the middle-class has money issues than the affluenza-type books, so it was a good read, especially since I am not part of a two-income family (or have a family) so don't have first-hand experience. ...more
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
It feels dated now, and really drove home to me how milquetoast center left policy was in 2003. However, I also had to keep reminding myself when it was written because the warnings about the housing market are so eerily predictive. And overall she should definitely be president.
Jul 25, 2007 rated it liked it
A Harvard Law bankruptcy professor writes crisply about the fiscal rape of average Americans at usurious, yet legal interest rates by the credit card and/or mortgage divisions of the major banks.
Nov 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: library-reads
3.5/5 - As this book was written in 2003, it is sadly a bit dated. Warren and her daughter gave a great background on subprime lending and bankruptcy, but in 2019 it feels a bit “been there, done that”.

I do think that the overall budgeting tips for dual income families are very smart, and something I will be considering in the future.
Lawrence Grandpre
Jan 15, 2020 rated it liked it
"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time". Maya Angelou

A text which attempts to eliminate the shame of people who have bankruptcy and reframe bankruptcy not as an individual moral failing, but as a social issue.

It's frame clearly shows the author believes in the justness of the rules of American capitalism, and sees the production of a strong middle-class base of one income homes in 20th century America as proof the value of American capitalism, and attempts to explain
Mar 15, 2011 rated it liked it
"The Two-Income Trap" was published in 2003. In some ways, this makes the book's pronouncements about things like sub-prime mortgages outdated, in others it just makes the authors look smarter.
Those authors already look pretty smart: they are Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor who is now the special adviser for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi.
"The Two-Income Trap" lays out a counter-intuitive case for why so many middle class families are go
Jan 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
I enjoy reading books that bust cultural myths with solid data. Elizabeth Warren's book dispels the idea that two incomes are better than one and that it's not the unashamed, lazy societal deadbeats that are filing for bankruptcy -- it's middle class parents. Two income households no longer have mom as a "safety net" when emergencies arise.

She wrote this book in 2003 and, as history has shown, she totally predicted the housing bubble would burst because of subprime loans and predatory credit car
May 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
The overall tone of this book was a bit heavy handed against the ideas of Americans spending more money than they make (subject of Juliet Schor's books) and a bit repetitive overall. She's running for the Senate now, so her tone is early political speak I think. Saying that, there are a few good nuggets to take away from this book. I think any family managing on one income today should definitely take award look as to why they need to send the second spouse out to work. In retrospect, I don't th ...more
May 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
If life were a Greek myth, this book would play the part of Cassandra to the current economic crisis. Published in 2003, it deals with why record numbers of families are falling into debt and bankruptcy. It's also a timely documentation of the laws of unintended consequences, in which cultural and regulatory changes occurring over the last forty years have put increasing pressure on middle class families. Warren and Tyagi (mother and daughter) try to dispel the myth that most people file for ban ...more
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Elizabeth Warren (born 1949) is an American academic and politician, and the current senior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts and a Democrat. She is the Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard Law School -- where she taught contract law, bankruptcy, and commercial law -- and devoted much of the past three decades to studying the economics of middle class families. In the wake of the 2008-9 financia ...more

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