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Marriages With Working Women Shown to be Stabler, Happier

Marriages With Working Women Shown to be Stabler, Happier

Last week, the NYT published an article discussing a trend that would have been unthinkable forty years ago: men between the ages of 30 and 44 are increasingly likelier to marry wives with more education and income than they have.  Although this seems logical, considering the fact that women’s earnings have risen steadily since 1970, the article went on to detail the insecurity and instability that comes with being an intelligent, independent woman in today’s dating scene, despite the fact that “women with college degrees are still more likely to marry today than less educated women.”

But today’s NYT brought a ray of optimism to the bleak outlook that most newspapers and magazines like to drive home (we really don’t need more articles with cheerful endings like this: “You are confident, have good credit, own your own business, travel around the world and are self-sufficient. What man is going to want you?”).  Tara Parker-Pope reiterated the statistics that sparked the first article: “In nearly a third of marriages, the wife is better educated than her husband. And though men, over all, still earn more than women, wives are now the primary breadwinner in 22 percent of couples, up from 7 percent in 1970.”

But, Parker-Pope writes, these changes have a surprising effect: rather than causing the angst, jealousy and instability described in last week’s article, they are actually contributing to lowered divorce rates and happier marriages.  Could it be possible that men can actually handle well-educated, ambitious, intelligent women?  The evidence certainly seems to be pointing in that direction.  As women’s earnings have increased, divorce rates have fallen.  It’s not just women who are winning in terms of happiness – both men and women are benefiting, and as a result, their marriages are healthier.

Certainly, there are challenges that come with these sea-changes in gender roles.  Parker-Pope writes that “even among dual-earning couples, women still do about two-thirds of the housework, on average, according to the University of Wisconsin National Survey of Families and Households.”  Women have trouble ceding their role as the primary parent, and men still may not contribute equally in the domestic sphere.  But men do help far more than they used to. Studies show that since the 1960s, men’s contributions to housework have doubled, while the amount of time spent caring for children has tripled.

Overall, Parker-Pope’s article is a refreshing breath of air, showing that equal marriages do work best for both partners.  And she also points out that, especially during the recession, many couples don’t have the luxury of worrying about gender roles – whichever spouse can earn the most, should.  The specter of the threatening, financially independent woman trying to usurp power from her husband doesn’t seem to be as relevant anymore.  Instead, marriages don’t have to rely on strict spheres for men and women – they can be more flexible, and women can be the primary breadwinners while men take over the domestic sphere, or both spouses can try to share both loads more equitably.  And, well, everyone seems to be happier.

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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72 comments

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8:19PM PST on Feb 9, 2010

great post

4:31PM PST on Feb 6, 2010

Are any marriages actually working these days?

6:45PM PST on Feb 4, 2010

I know a couple who have two kids, and after they had the second it became obvious that one of them needed to stay at home to take care of them. Since the mother was earning more than the father, he quit and is now a stay-at-home dad. The kids don't mind and neither parent feels threatened. It's working out great for them.

9:14AM PST on Jan 31, 2010

this is good news

1:39AM PST on Jan 29, 2010

working or not does not defy the fact and reserves the right for being a woman and try to live to its very essence....

2:43AM PST on Jan 26, 2010

This is such good news for educated, well-earning women around the world!! I think it's past time that people realised the value of an ambitious, intelligent, hard-working woman :D

2:42AM PST on Jan 26, 2010

So my wife of 35 years is not a woman has she stop at home and did not work --- DID not work, she look after the home, look after 3 kids, did her Uni training, and after the kids left home, she started a fulltime job at Uni!

6:19PM PST on Jan 25, 2010

Oh, Oh, Lindsey O--you are my type of woman! I have been reading your posts, and I wholeheartedly agree--not only do women who choose to stay at home deserve that choice and the accompanying respect, I too feel that too many treat marriage as not much more than another financial deal, using cold business terminology to describe partners' roles and relationship dynamics. Some might prefer to run their marriage like a business, but I prefer a much warmer and fuzzier version, in which the two are motivated by an all-encompassing care and concern for the happiness and preservation of the relationship. Where financial and other outside concerns are important, but still take a back seat to the integrity of the relationship. Jobs are of course vital--someone has to bring in the money, and I am somewhat traditional especially where children are involved, but it is sad indeed to hear of people's relationships not surviving the loss of a job or jobs, and this includes the husband's job. This makes the prospect of marriage seem even more mercenary and dependent on financial concerns than on true love, friendship, and the ability to weather rough waters. Anyway, I digress. Relationship dynamics are the choice of the couple, and said couple by and large should not be unduly pressured by societal expectations, movements, etc.

9:28AM PST on Jan 25, 2010

By the way, in spite of what those women claimed, I've never fallen in love in my life (fascination with actors and singers doesn't count).

9:27AM PST on Jan 25, 2010

Another myth debunked! Right-wing activists claim that women's place is in the kitchen, that for a family to be happy the mother shouldn't work, etc. (I've even met women who claimed that and who told me, for example: 'A women doesn't need university studies. You'll fall in love and forget about your studies'.) Now it's been proved they are wrong. Great news!

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