Peg

Is being somebody’s spouse a full time job?

The WSJ Online recently published this article that reports the findings of a recent study that women professionals are more likely than male professionals to be divorced, with women MBA's twice as likely as male MBAs. These findings of course raise all sorts of issues (including culture, societal pressures, work life balance, ambition) and we could go on and on about the differences between men and women in today's America.

While the article suggests that professional women are "opting out" of marriage and family in order to have careers, the point at the end of the article is interesting to me:

Ms. Hewlett believes more is at play than just a prevailing image that high-earning women are a threat to men. Suggesting that highly successful women are attracted to similarly successful men, she put forward the idea that such women "can't summon up the TLC and support that high-earning men need."

Her advice? Well-educated, highly compensated women should be targeting particularly loving and supportive men.

This begs the question, then, whether being a supportive spouse is a full time job. Afterall, as a professional woman, I don't have time for another full time job -- something's got to give and maybe for many women that something is their marriage.

However, to some how suggest that high earning men "need" full-time spouses to support them and that high-earning women do not is well, insulting to men and I don't think a factual concept at its core (society may tell men they need such a wife but that doesn't make it so). Her statement suggests that the men are leaving their high-earning wives because the women don't give them TLC. (The old "blame the woman for not being a 'good wife'" argument that society can't seem to lay to rest.) What if its the women that are doing the leaving because they just can't have two full-time jobs and to expect them to is ridiculous? Oh, and what if these women also need support and TLC from their spouses? One thing I will say is that it is my belief (not based on a scientific study but more anecdotal) that financially secure women are more likely than similarly secure men to think they can go it alone if faced with an unsupportive spouse-- hence the opting out of marriage makes sense. (This is the bottom line of the post on this topic at The Juggle and I agree.)

As for her advice, in the end... I too would argue that professional women need loving and supportive spouses. Perhaps the fact that more professional women are divorcing than their male counterparts and many more are staying away from marriage in the first place, suggests that (a) such "particularly loving and supportive men" are just not around or (b) that we just can't have two full time jobs.

13 Comments

misskacie

This showed up on the ABA e-journal as well.  I find the whole concept presumptive and sexist.  Statistics will never say enough about WHY there might be a difference in these divorse rates, and I would think that ALL women would be advised to find very loving and supportive husbands, not just professional women. 
 http://www.abajournal.com/weekly/women_lawyers_have_higher_divorce_rates_need_loving_husbands_researcher_say
 

CC_NC

I recommend anyone reading this post to check out the above poster's link and the comments.  There is a lot more to these numbers then "women attorneys don't give enough TLC."  For instance, 10% divorce rate is significantly lower then the general population's divoce rate, the report does not note what percentage of either sex were married to a stay at home spouse (the commentors however, point out that women are usually married to another professional which adds additional strain to a marriage),  and women with just a BA are divorced at a higher rate then women with a JD (although both are higher then their male counterparts).  I suggest going back and looking at the original report and statistics.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120701350606879161.html
 

k_watanabe

Perhaps pertinent to this discussion is an article I read earlier in the week, about a study that shows a husband creates, on average, 7 more hours of housework for a wife, while a wife means 1 hour less of housework for a husband.
 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23957393/

veronica

"However, to some how suggest that high earning men "need" full-time spouses to support them and that high-earning women do not is well, insulting to men and I don't think a factual concept at its core"
Peg I agree with you, but what if the phrase in bold was cut? I think there is an argument that high pressure professional roles having become what they are they leave little room for a marriage. I think that's true for both men and women though.
I am a lawyer married to an academic. I cannot imagine having a family life if his job was as demanding (in terms of hours on the ground, not challenges) as mine.
 Just based on personal observation I think there's some truth to the argument that 2 people working round the clock are not going to maintain a marriage very well compared to 2 people where at least one has a decent amount of non-work time.
 The thing we need to do though is take the sexism out of it. Social expectations remain that the woman is the one whose time spent on career needs to give. I think someone's career time has to give, but it doesn't have to be the woman.
Professional men and women both would benefit from having partners who have more TLC time to give. Perhaps this is stating the opposite but complementary careers work better than competing ones.

jessie

For what it's worth I know a number of high power couples my parents age with seemingly happy marriages - but none of them have kids. I'm not sure if Veronica was thinking only of families when she commented that a marriage between two equally hard working partners won't be maintained "very well." 
I disagree with Veronica even if she is thinking about couples with and without children, but I think that having children certainly exacerbates the challenges facing dual-earner couples.

veronica

Jessie you could well be right, I'm sure it is possible - people do much more amazing things every day. I only meant that based purely on my observations, it is pretty difficult and doesn't leave much room for a marriage. If you work hard enough at it anything is possible and different couples may have different coping strategies that wouldn't work for me or my friends.
 I totally agree with Peg's criticism of the sexism in the original statement. I just think there is some truth to it when that's removed. Some truth doesn't mean it's not possible.
 Just based on the experience of my marriage and observations of close friends' marriages -  think a marriage is at least a part time job with flexible hours. I think it is difficult to find time to do that well if you're both working crazy hours. And definitely children make that a lot harder, so if I met people who coped well, like Jessie describes, I am betting most of them would be childless.
 Just based on the fact most people end up wanting to have kids sometime though, it is worth thinking about how hard it will be if neither partner wants to cut back on their full time and then some profession. In many cases I think something has to give, and sadly for all involved it is probably often the marriage.

Peg

I still think that the "expert's" statement about professional women not being able to summon up the TLC and support that high powered men need is wrong - wrong meaning a problem for me, not meaning that it isn't factual.
I thinkmany high powered men feel like they need a woman to take care of them and all the parts of the their lives that do not have to do with their job.  Even then, I think many high powered men rely on their wives to support the social requirements of being a high powered man too.  I think this need is taught to them by our society and the media.
On the other hand, I think women need men less.  I think that women are taught that they must handle everything on their own.  Show me a man that is great at multi-tasking and I'll show you 10 women that are better at it; nine of these will be mothers.  In the least, I think that women that start out on the path to a professional career, say by going to med school, B school or law school, don't count on there being a man to iron their shirts and cook dinner every night.  (They may dream about such an arrangement but aren't likely counting on it!)
Like I said, the statistics raise all sorts of issues about our society and our individual expectations.  I think the basic reason for most failed marriages is a disconnect between expectations and reality.  I agree with the "expert" that professional women likely seek out profession mates.  I would surmise that this is because a woman wants her partner to appreciate her professional abilities (isn't this what all professional women want from all professional men).  I would also suppose that some of these professional men that marry professional women want a woman that will have enough TLC and support to give for his professional life—and therein lies the breakdown.  A woman can't be everything to everybody so either her career suffers (and then she wouldn't be included in the study) or her marriage suffers, or her partner makes compromises.

jessie

I am interested to know what role folks think professional support staff play in all this. Throughout this conversation I keep hearing Linda Hirshman in my head - reminding me that being a partner in the home is a full time job, but one our society doesn't compensate, so you're undermining your economic worth when you do it. Better to hire someone else to do it and focus your energy on your own career.  Forgive me Ms. Hirshman if my head is mischaracterizing you.
In the past I've be known to get a little self-righteous and bitter when a supervisor asked me or my colleagues to take care of his/her personal arrangements (flowers for the wife, dinner reservations, doctor's appointments, etc.). I've also worked in offices where administrative assistants served as a personal assistant not just to their boss but to their boss's spouse.
Do people think this is appropriate? Is a really awesome administrative support staff the key to the dual-earner balancing act?

CC_NC

I have a follow-up question to the professional support post.  In the previous post, the author was referring to administrative staff which I understood to mean the assistants, secretaries, etc, who work at the firm of one spouse or another.  My question is, what about professional support at HOME?  Like a nanny (PT or FT) or baby-sitter/housecleaner/pick-up person?  How does this type of support affect the dual-profession marriage and careers?  How helpful is having this type of support? Any thoughts?
Thanks!

Peg

Personally, I think outsourcing life is the way to go.  I also think that employers recognize that, especially big law firms.  At my office, we have a dry cleaning service that will pick up and drop off laundry to the office, a car wash guy that comes to the parking lot, a mail room that will handle our personal mailing needs, a massuese (sp?) that comes to the office once a week and of course food delivery services (all of this at personal expense).  They also bring into the office investment reps, tax preparers, the blood bank, flu shots, recycling companies, etc. 
I also have a house cleaner, a gardener, and a nanny and I buy my groceries on line and have them delivered.  I'm sure I'm missing something here.
If only I could get my hair done at work or home!
Having all this support leaves me time to spend on important things like my kids and my husband. 
(Go ahead and let me have it about outsourcing the raising of my kids. The truth is that I spend just about every non-working minute with my kids and the nanny never works when I am home.  Also, they are in school all day.)

veronica

Peg you'll get no flak from me for outsourcing but I think it's a question of being required to. I'm fine with people doing all kinds of different things that work for them but I don't like being required to outsource just to be taken seriously at work. I've been in that situation. And yes childcare is the touchy one. My child is in full time daycare, I'm certainly not saying that's in any way to be criticized, but what about people who, in order to rise through the ranks, have to have 3 consecutive shifts of nannies? I can't imagine anyone preferring that if they had a choice other than to quit their job (correct me if you think I'm wrong there). So is forcing parents into that really such a great idea?
Lots of firms seem to have after hours or backup care in or near the firm now. That's great but it isn't a substitute for being able to actually go home with your child and have dinner (and keep working remotely afterwards if needed). I think in some firms there is a bit of an atittude "well we provide you with everything on site so you never have to leave".
I don't know that I agree men need women more than women need men. Its only a very small sample but I'd say my female lawyer friends are very much in need of their (non-lawyer, usually flexible hours) husbands. Yes especially once they have kids of course.
 At the risk of tattling on myself here - I know I couldn't have done it without my husband. He does more than half the housework, more than half the childcare and the most important part of maintaining our marriage is that he keeps me relatively sane with a sense of perspective. I just can't imagine I'm that rare or that pathetic that I'm the only woman out there who really needs her TLC from her non-lawyer partner I guess.

jessie

While we're talking about outsourcing the personal to the professional: April 23, 2008, is National Administrative Professionals Day.

CC_NC

Thanks for the comments about outsourcing!  I am planning on living the outsourced life.  My husband and I both work (I'm the attorney) and neither of us are interested in quitting our careers to stay home.  I completely agree that we shouldn't feel like we MUST outsource to do what we do.  But, on the other hand, I can see how the availability of such services do a lot to provide the TLC that both spouses need.  (Ok, not saying that the neither the gardener nor nanny should be providing TLC to spouses, but by taking care of some things that need to be done they allow spouses to spend more quality time together).  Really, this all comes down to how we spend our time.  Why not use all the resources at our disposal to make the right decisions!

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