The Richer Sex

Recently a Time magazine piece and NPR broadcast caught my attention.  Both featured the author Liza Mundy who has written a book on the topic of the recent trend of  ‘women…overtaking men as America’s breadwinners’.   In the article she gives an example of the Hawkins family in Detroit, Michigan.  Despite growing up in traditional families with a working father, the Hawkins father, Danny, left the ‘crushing’ corporate world to be a stay at home Dad.

“He is a master of the shopping list, appointment calendar and household budget; he has served as treasurer of the PTA and the HOA; and on Halloween he did a statistical analysis of trick-or-treaters to gauge how much candy to buy next year. ”

“I told Susie several times that my job is to make her life easier, and I like doing it.”

Susie, the Mom says “We both have made sacrifices but your priority is to provide for your family- the love, the affection, the nurturing.  For us, its about what’s best for the family”.

The article then says “Assuming present trends continue by the next generation, more families will be supported by women than by men…In 2009 4 in 10 working wives out-earned their husbands- an increase of 50% from 20 years before”.  I found this to be an amazing statistic!

“Think about what this portends.  The primary role men have played since they departed the cave…to earn paychecks in the Mad Men era will be passed to women.  The impact will be felt everywhere, from the classroom to the boardroom to the bedroom, in how men and women work, play, shop, vote, save and share, and court and even love each other”.

I have to say I feel mostly positive about these changes.  While still a gap women have been working for decades to reduce the wage gap and be treated fairly for their hard earned labor.  Also, the work of a stay at home provider, traditionally a woman, was downgraded (even still can be downgraded today- Hillary Rosen!) and treated as nothing but watching soap operas and cleaning after kids.  As I’ve mentioned before on this blog despite having a wonderful stay at home Mom I didn’t see its value until I was an adult.  I wanted to do something important and in my young naivety that could only be done outside of the home, out in the big world.

Now hopefully men are getting a more appreciation for what women have been doing for years.  Also, the work in 2 income households is more shared than it ever was before.  It used to be that a woman would work full time and then still be expected to contribute more than her husband to the house/family responsibilities.  Now with more men learning domestic skills such as cooking and cleaning, these tasks are shared across sexes more than ever before.

“As for child rearing, men have become significantly more hands-on over the past generation, and that trend will only accelerate as more families let earning power rather than gender determine who is the primary parent.  While some women will struggle to adapt to more distant mothering, they may also relish seeing their children enjoying intimate relationships with their fathers”.

This seems like a good thing to me?  I grew up in a culture that is always talking about the nurturing gifts of women to the point where men can feel ostracized and less capable of bonding with their children.  I think both sexes are equally capable of loving and raising children.

I was discussing the ‘marriage crisis‘ with a friend the other day, and he said he felt pressure ‘to provide for a family’.  This surprised, even amazed me.  In the modern world I think most women see marriage as a team endeavor where both parties work to make a budget effective for a family.  For me I am not looking for the traditional male protector and provider role in a prospective partner.  I figure if I get married we will be a team and conquer any challenges that come our way together, not a husband guiding me through perilous waters to safety!

On a purely selfish perspective I love this change.  I love being able to go into commerce and experience both women and men in almost every situation.  I have had much better experiences with women doctors (more on that in a bit) and am grateful for the sacrifice they make to serve me in their chosen field.

In the article Mundy goes over the history of male/female relationships and even says ‘Evolutionary psychologists argued that dependence was women’s desired condition- that women were genetically driven to seek providers who could support their offspring. ”

But now “‘the deal is off.  High paying industrial jobs that once enabled a man with a high school education to bring home a family wage are disappearing and as women become co-breadwinners or primary breadwinners in more households, all kinds of assumptions about how the household works are changing such as the domestic division of labor and women’s ‘economic influence at both home and in public’.”

“A study found that in households where the husband brings in more income, buying decisions are made equally, but in households where the wife earns more, she typically makes twice as many buying decisions as the man”

Does this not put additional pressure on already over-burdened women?  Could that not be a negative?  Even if it isn’t, could women still feel a self-imposed pressure to do everything at home and work, despite a husbands efforts?

Other negatives-

The fluid nature of the role of manhood has changed.  While I abhor any notion of chauvinism there was an aspect to a traditional male role that is appealing.  A sense that man knew who he was and what he was supposed to do with his life.  Will Ferrell  and Seth Rogan have made careers out of playing lovable louts who don’t know what to do with their lives.   Traditionally men didn’t have the choices they now have because of the pressures of providing for a family.  Now so many seem to amble about waiting for the perfect job, perfect school, perfect woman.

Also, the desire of women to date and get married reduces when it is  difficult to meet a true and equal partner.  Why get married if you know you will have to provide for a family?  That’s the decision men have shouldered for centuries and women sometimes find it harder to answer than they might have expected. Also, why get married when you can live a happy life by yourself? Characters such as Robin on HIMYM are facing this dilemma.  She doesn’t want to get married but the eager-to-have-a-family Ted is dying to.   Do you see this change amongst your friends and family?

There is also the issue of women still making less money, particularly in certain fields, as men.  We’ve made huge improvements but still careers that are viewed as feminine such as teaching are vastly underpaid.  In addition, women still have a ways to go with entering leadership positions and running for public office.   As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is still difficult for most people to envision a woman as president. I wonder if that will change as these trends change?

And then there is the delicate issue of pregnancy (the age old female problem that women can’t pass on to men!).  Many jobs still make maternity leave a difficult prospect and the idea of being gone for a vacation let alone months of leave can be very scary.  As a breadwinner, can a woman sacrifice such time for her family and will the work-force tolerate it?  Naturally this causes people to put off having children, have less children or have no children at all (All 3 decisions which I support, it is just an interesting societal change).

Last year in the New York Times a doctor named Karen Sibert made huge waves with her article  Don’t Quit This Day Job.  She argued that women who have so much invested in their education to become doctors and don’t work in the field full time are denying society of the investment it has made in their services and from the services they can provide for the greater good:

“Medical education is supported by federal and state tax money both at the university level — student tuition doesn’t come close to covering the schools’ costs — and at the teaching hospitals where residents are trained. So if doctors aren’t making full use of their training, taxpayers are losing their investment. With a growing shortage of doctors in America, we can no longer afford to continue training doctors who don’t spend their careers in the full-time practice of medicine.”

I’m not saying I agree with the doctor (in fact, I think her assumption of an all-or-nothing deal is a bit crazy) but it is a conversation we need to have.  Women need to acknowledge that they may be asked to give up their career full time or that their husband may make this sacrifice (or that you are comfortable with outside childcare, or having no children)  Before you are married or have children it is good to ask yourself the question of what you are going to do and what you want your family to look like?

Whatever choice you make there will be sacrifices for both spouses and their children.  As a society we need to be aware of these choices and encourage a discussion.

We also need to make sure that both men and women are educated in domestic skills.  That they both know how to cook, clean and live on a budget.  I have known so many girls that can barely toast a bagel let alone cook for their families.

Part of these psychological adjustments in femininity and masculinity will go away in time as the differences between the sexes becomes smaller and smaller.  I know a lot of people that would see such a change as a very sad thing.  What do you think?  What do you think of stay-at-home-Dads and the new female breadwinners? Do you think this is a mostly a good or bad thing?

The article ends with this thought:

“It would be nice to imagine a world where employers make it possible for all mothers and fathers to work reasonable hours.  But some jobs will always require more than the eight hours a day.  For a woman, like a man, reaching the highest levels of achievement may depend on a sp0use willing to downshift.  What’s new is that the decisions about who dials back will be based on personal aptitude and what works best for each couple rather than outdated n0tions of which sex is better fitted to what”

Seems like a good thing to me…

5 thoughts on “The Richer Sex

  1. I was fascinated by this post. Personally, I have struggled in parenthood. I out-earn my husband, though he makes quite a good paycheck and, depending on bonuses, can bring home more than I in a given month, though this isn’t the norm. As a mother of two, though, I still feel that it is ultimately my job to care for the children. My husband hasn’t imposed this. He’s wonderful. But, I feel…I don’t know…a societal pressure of sorts to make mothering a priority. As a working mom, I feel as though I have two full time jobs (and neither gets done to its full need). No one is pressuring my husband, or men in general to find a better balance between work and home. When we hear of these Stay At Home Dads, I feel as though there’s still a sense of novelty in that, or that it is “nice” that a man would relieve a woman of her full-time mom duties (of which she is only relieved because some man has determined that it be so). I don’t know. I love the idea that truer equity is on the horizon, but I suppose I still believe that this equity is determined by men’s willingness to allow it to be.

    Nevertheless, I truly enjoyed your post and intend to return often to your blog. Thanks for making me think today…

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. I am not married so in discussions like these I am more the observer than a real-life participant. It is always helpful to get the perspective of someone who is living it and having to make those sacrifices. The NPR discussion talks more about the psychological feelings of women and men in this change more than the article but I can imagine it would be very difficult to find the right balance of work/family, especially when you are raised that a good mother does_____. Sounds like your husband is a gem. I think women no matter their situation feel like they have to take the world on their shoulders (I think this is partly because of the many images we see of women who seemingly do it all and alone). Sometimes I feel overwhelmed being a single working woman. I can’t imagine supporting a family! Great job! I think the more couples try to make it work however sloppily the better future generations will find the balance.
      I wonder if the stay at home Dad trend is a novelty. It does seem like a rich man’s luxury but the fact that 4 out of 10 women make more than their partners amazed me. You would never have dreamed of a statistic like that even 10 years ago. I wonder if in 10 years we will see more accommodations in the workplace to help the increasing number of female employees stay happily employed such as making maternity leave easier or having more at-home work that could be more flexible with a family.
      It would be interesting if your husband read the piece what his perspective would be.

  2. Interesting article. With the economy as bad as it is, I think many families are going to start turning to whoever has the ability to make more money. For instance, if the husband was long the primary breadwinner, but he’s out of work, there will be a natural shift to the wife making more money and him doing more at home. From what I see, a lot of roles are shifting in the country, but they aren’t due to conscious choices. They are a matter of necessity. In some ways, I suppose this is good because it helps break down stereotypes. In other ways its bad because some people are being forced to live under circumstances they wouldn’t have chosen.

    1. Very good point. With more women graduating from college, graduate school, law school and now even medical school, there are going to be more ready to make a viable income than their husbands. The NPR program talks about the idea of shifting roles and I think that is totally true. There was one caller who said she was working while her husband went to school and he worked putting her through school. I find this an admirable and wonderful sacrifice a couple could make for each other. But that give-and-take is getting more common as people lose their jobs and gain new one’s. It will be interesting to see once the economy gets back on its feet if these trends stay in place or the traditional roles are re-embraced?

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