THE BLOG
03/07/2012 01:17 pm ET

Are Wives Ok with Husbands Having Highly Satisfying But Low-Paying Jobs?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

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Answer by Anne K. Halsall, Quora Product Designer.

I think most women wish it were more feasible for them to be the primary earners. Unfortunately, this is still a difficult path to take for a number of reasons.

The first reason is the second shift phenomenon. There is an excellent book about this called The Second Shift by Arlie Hochschild (NYT review here: http://www.nytimes.com/1989/06/25/books/she-minds-the-child-he-minds-the-dog.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm), but the basic gist is that women right now are suffering from a delayed revolution in the world of domestic work. Women are getting into the workplace but their work at home hasn't ceased; they now have full-time jobs but come home to a "second shift" of cooking, cleaning and childcare. If you do the math, these responsibilities add up to a staggering extra month of work per year.

The unfortunate reality is that both men and women have a long way to go in breaking down the stereotypical gender ideologies that come along with a marital partnership. A woman who takes on the role of primary earner may find herself fighting an uphill battle simply to get her partner to acknowledge the domestic duties that need to be done, much less perform them. This puts a lot of strain on both the woman and the relationship. The path of least resistance is to simply accept the traditional role.

The second reason is the wage gap. This one's not complicated. Women simply earn less than men do, making it harder for them to earn enough to support their families without the husband's income.

The third is the physical and professional consequences of childbearing. The professional world can be an exceptionally hostile place to a pregnant woman. Just ask anyone who has looked for work while pregnant. If the woman were the primary earner and the couple chose to have a child, they now have to deal with a host of scary problems, like what to do if she lost her job, or how they would cope with physical complications that limited her ability to work.

I think it's very important that women everywhere have the freedom and opportunity to pursue a professional life instead of the more traditional family roles. I think it's equally important that people understand that choosing to pursue the traditional role is not a bad thing. It does not make the woman lazy. It does not make the man a sucker. Given the things I listed above, for many it is a pragmatic choice.

Every couple has to have an honest conversation about this (preferably before getting married) and decide for themselves which challenges they want to take on. No one gets to have their cake and eat it too. The good news is that as the conditions for women in the workplace improve, it will become easier and easier for women to be primary earners, which will in turn give men more freedom and choice of their own. When it comes to gender equality, everyone wins.

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