We’ve heard a lot about the downfall of marriage lately; less than half of adults in the U.S. are married, according to the latest 2011 PEW Study.
But at one demographic has seen a recent increase in marriage rates: high-earning women. The implications of this phenomenon on everything from the economy to our sex lives is the subject of a new book by Liza Mundy: “The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family,” on sale Tuesday, March 20 and featured on the March 15 cover of TIME magazine.
Mundy bases her argument in part on the findings of The Hamilton Project, which studied income and work patterns and found that while women in lower income brackets were getting married in smaller numbers, marriage rates for women in the top earning percentile increased by ten percentage points, suggesting that with increased work opportunities for women, more women are choosing marital as well as financial independence -- though women who have reached he pinnacles of financial success are pairing off in increasing numbers. As Mundy describes it, the reason for the uptick is that men view a woman's earning power as more attractive than ever before. And that, Mundy claims, means we're in for a huge dismantling -- in some cases a complete reversal -- of traditional gender roles.
One of the signs of what Mundy describes in the book as the "Big Shift" is women's academic prowess. 57 percent of undergraduates are female, and women earn the majority of doctorates and master’s degrees, leading some experts to suggest that in a quarter century, medicine and law fields will be dominated by women. While some, like UK Universities Minister David Willetts, have suggested that the gender gap in education will lead women to “dumb themselves down” or hide their success to catch a husband, Mundy argues the opposite: “Men are just as willing as women to marry up, and life is now giving them the opportunity to do so.”
As proof, she cites a 2001 study led by psychologist David Buss at The University of Texas at Austin that found a vast change in the values men reported looking for in a mate: Over a 50 year period, the importance men placed on a woman’s income and ability to support herself rose astronomically while a once-strong emphasis on her domestic skills plummeted. Changing ideas of masculinity and the fact that men are now more involved at home have a lot to do with that, Mundy suggests.
While not all of her predictions for future gender dynamics are positive, one thing is clear: The days when pop culture can call to mind a strictly female “Gold-digger” are numbered.
SLIDESHOW: 10 Predictions From "The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family"
The 2009 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey found that in 4 out of 10 working couples, <a href="http://bls.gov/cps/wlftable25-2010.htm" target="_hplink">wives out-earned their husbands</a> -- essentially doubling this figure in two decades.
In <em><a href="http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2109140,00.html" target="_hplink">TIME</a></em>, Mundy cites a 2000 study from Ohio State University showing that the amount of time spent on housework per day for women decreased by 70 minutes between the 1970s and the aughts but for men has increased by 30 minutes since 1965.
Mundy points out PEW research showing that in households where the woman makes more than her husband, she makes twice as many buying decisions. In 2009 Goldman Sachs predicted that the food, health care, education, and childcare sectors, along with many other industries, would receive a boost from women's increased purchasing power.
"Women can afford to wait," Mundy writes.
It's been widely reported that with rising unemployment, <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Business/role-reversal-unemployment-creates-stay-home-fathers/story?id=11983642." target="_hplink">more men are becoming stay-at-home dads</a>. While the closer ties between child and father are a good thing, Mundy suggests that it may also lead to mothers spending more hours away from their families to feel further apart from their children.
With less stigma around a wife out-earning her husband and the offer of more and more successful women, why not?
Think "[h]unting but also cooking. Golf but also child care," writes Mundy.
Mundy cites research from the Families & Work Institute that found fathers in dual income households are already <a href="http://familiesandwork.org/site/research/reports/Times_Are_Changing.pdf" target="_hplink">feeling more pressure to balance family and work</a> than mothers.
As women earn their own money and it becomes "shared" money, questions will arise about whether they need to consult their spouses before buying things for themselves. Also, do they need to help out as much at home if they make the higher salary? "Just as women begin to feel that maybe it is okay to luxuriate a little bit, when they get home from work," Mundy writes, "the next question arises: Just how much lux"uriating is fair?
When traditionally masculine traits fall away, including being the primary earner, women will have to learn to appreciate different traits in his male partners. Is it his cooking? His parenting skills? The way he makes sure you come home to a clean house and kids?