Are women breadwinners less satisfied in marriage and more likely to get divorced?
When I read this article about the rise of women as family breadwinners, I took it mostly as good news, because look at these pretty stellar advances in the position of women in our workforce:
- 40 percent of American households with children now include a mother who is the sole or primary earner for the family. This percentage, however, is driven by a large number of single mothers as sole earners
- 24 percent of married women make more money than their husbands. Still a minority, but this number was insignificant just a few decades ago
- 32 percent of mothers believe their ideal situation is to work full-time, versus 20 percent of mothers six years ago
- More families have a mother who is more educated than the father (22.7 percent of mothers, versus 16.5 percent of fathers. The remaining 61 percent of two-parent families involve spouses with similar levels of education).
So, more women are pursuing advanced education, and many of them are not only working, but some are also earning more than their husbands!
The disturbing news come in this little snippet buried in the article that says that: "Couples in which the wife earns more report less satisfaction with their marriage and higher rates of divorce." This is not the first time I have heard this one -- so here is where I come in to overanalyze why this may or may not be the case.
First, let's just recognize that our society is in the midst of a massive change when it comes to marriage, the composition of our workforce and our roles in the household. Thankfully, our generation has taken to question, bend and reform many of the traditional norms; the Breadwinning Woman is a result of this reshaping.
So, let's tackle this: Is the Breadwinning Woman less satisfied with her marriage?
Did I shock you? Allow me to explain my answer. Breadwinning Women are less satisfied with their marriages because most of our marriages are still following the traditional division of labor, whether or not the woman works and whether or not she is the primary breadwinner. Thus, the breadwinning woman in a family now takes on the traditional wage-earning role of the man, while retaining MOST or ALL of the responsibilities for the traditional caretaking roles of the woman, rendering her a STRESSED OUT BASKET CASE.
Many schools still address all student correspondence to the mother, even though you may have reminded them 12 times to address it to both parents. The pediatrician and the dentist always call the mother with the appointment reminders, even though you may have told them that your husband would be taking the kids to the doctor this year. Mothers arrange all the pre-Kindergarten play dates, do most of the food shopping and preparations and handle most of the providers of services for the kids or the household. When it comes to kids, society overburdens the mother and basically ignores the father.
At the marriage level, the solution is in the re-negotiation of the roles in the family. The dual-working parents couple must now absolutely attempt to divide the caretaking responsibilities, such as school drop offs, babysitter management, play date scheduling, food buying and cooking, cleaning, vacation planning, and house maintenance in a more equal way. Let me temper the above by saying that there are moments in which the kids need mom and not dad. Why, because we have soft bosoms that smell like flowers, and it just isn't the same to cry into some hairy, musty muscular chest. It just isn't, although my daughter seems to prefer that some times... so go figure.
At society's level, well, the solution lies in it being more open-minded, which is never an easy task. You see how long it is taking our gay friends to even get the right to marry each other? Well, shifts of this nature take time, but as I have said before, nothing ever gets resolved if we just sit here and do nothing. So let's do something. Let's make it easier for breadwinning mothers and their husbands to live the lifestyle that came their way. We cannot let the news bad-mouth the breadwinning woman before she even had a chance to renegotiate and rebalance her role in the family.
Since the breadwinner woman has several sources of satisfaction in life -- work, marriage, kids, professional networks and maybe a hobby -- there is perhaps less of a need to derive as much satisfaction from the marriage itself as there is in a more traditional marriage. For the Breadwinning Woman, marriage is one of the feeders, but not the only one.
Let's talk about the NEEDS of the Breadwinning Woman, and allow me to shock you further: for every penny of money that we do not need as financial support from our husbands, we need as an additional dose of emotional support, intimacy and connection. Although the Breadwinning Woman may appear to be this super independent, made-of-iron, can-take-on-anything woman worthy of a cape, many of us can't wait to take off the iron costume we wear all day long and have someone care for us emotionally, physically, and sexually. Come close and I will tell you a little secret... shhh: We actually just want to be taken care of, we want to surrender, we want someone else to plan, decide, execute and control... at least some of the time. If you are a breadwinning woman, your husband better offer more than healthy competition for external accomplishments; he better offer some heart, some soul, and some you know what.
Finally, on the D word. Well, financial independence brings with it other types of independence, too. While a financially dependent wife may stay in an unhappy marriage, a financially independent one can leave, and many do. The divorce rate has increased dramatically in the last few decades across all types of marriage configurations, and there are broader factors at play here.
So, is it less satisfaction with her marriage, or less need for satisfaction from her marriage because satisfaction also comes from other sources or that her marriage needs to evolve into a new division of labor?
Is it a higher rate of divorce or a higher rate of feeling free to divorce?
Got to go -- make some bread.
P.S.: To lesbian and gay couples: I wrote this post to address the more traditional male-female division of labor. I believe gay couples are at least five decades ahead of traditional couples in terms of progress in more equal division of labor.