Forbes.com published a story on Aug. 22 by editor Michael Noer on two-career relationships that provoked a heated response. Elizabeth Corcoran, a member of Forbe’s Silicon Valley bureau sent in this rebuttal.
Point: Don’t Marry Career Women
How do women, careers and marrage mix? Not well, say social scientists.
Guys: A word of advice. Marry pretty women or ugly ones. Short ones or tall ones. Blondes or brunettes. Just, whatever you do, don’t marry a woman with a career.
Why? Because if many social scientists are to be believed, you run a higher risk of having a rocky marriage. While everyone knows that marriage can be stressful, recent studies have found professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat, less likely to have children, and, if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it. A recent study in Social Forces, a research journal, found that women–even those with a "feminist" outlook–are happier when their husband is the primary breadwinner.
Not a happy conclusion, especially given that many men, particularly successful men, are attracted to women with similar goals and aspirations. And why not? After all, your typical career girl is well-educated, ambitious, informed and engaged. All seemingly good things, right? Sure…at least until you get married. Then, to put it bluntly, the more successful she is the more likely she is to grow dissatisfied with you. Sound familiar?
Many factors contribute to a stable marriage, including the marital status of your spouse’s parents (folks with divorced parents are significantly more likely to get divorced themselves), age at first marriage, race, religious beliefs and socio-economic status. And, of course, many working women are indeed happily and fruitfully married–it’s just that they are less likely to be so than non-working women. And that, statistically speaking, is the rub.
To be clear, we’re not talking about a high-school dropout minding a cash register. For our purposes, a "career girl" has a university-level (or higher) education, works more than 35 hours a week outside the home and makes more than $30,000 a year.
If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill (American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier (Institute for Social Research).
Why? Well, despite the fact that the link between work, women and divorce rates is complex and controversial, much of the reasoning is based on a lot of economic theory and a bit of common sense. In classic economics, a marriage is, at least in part, an exercise in labor specialization. Traditionally men have tended to do "market" or paid work outside the home and women have tended to do "non-market" or household work, including raising children. All of the work must get done by somebody, and this pairing, regardless of who is in the home and who is outside the home, accomplishes that goal. Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker argued that when the labor specialization in a marriage decreases–if, for example, both spouses have careers–the overall value of the marriage is lower for both partners because less of the total needed work is getting done, making life harder for both partners and divorce more likely. And, indeed, empirical studies have concluded just that.
In 2004, John H. Johnson examined data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation and concluded that gender has a significant influence on the relationship between work hours and increases in the probability of divorce. Women’s work hours consistently increase divorce, whereas increases in men’s work hours often have no statistical effect. "I also find that the incidence in divorce is far higher in couples where both spouses are working than in couples where only one spouse is employed," Johnson says. A few other studies, which have focused on employment (as opposed to working hours) have concluded that working outside the home actually increases marital stability, at least when the marriage is a happy one. But even in these studies, wives’ employment does correlate positively to divorce rates, when the marriage is of "low marital quality."
The other reason a career can hurt a marriage will be obvious to anyone who has seen their mate run off with a co-worker: When your spouse works outside the home, chances increase they’ll meet someone they like more than you. "The work environment provides a host of potential partners," researcher Adrian J. Blow reported in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, "and individuals frequently find themselves spending a great deal of time with these individuals."
There’s more: According to a wide-ranging review of the published literature, highly educated people are more likely to have had extra-marital sex (those with graduate degrees are 1.75 more likely to have cheated than those with high school diplomas.) Additionally, individuals who earn more than $30,000 a year are more likely to cheat.
And if the cheating leads to divorce, you’re really in trouble. Divorce has been positively correlated with higher rates of alcoholism, clinical depression and suicide. Other studies have associated divorce with increased rates of cancer, stroke, and sexually-transmitted disease. Plus divorce is financially devastating. According to one recent study on "Marriage and Divorce’s Impact on Wealth," published in The Journal of Sociology, divorced people see their overall net worth drop an average of 77%.
So why not just stay single? Because, academically speaking, a solid marriage has a host of benefits beyond just individual "happiness." There are broader social and health implications as well. According to a 2004 paper entitled "What Do Social Scientists Know About the Benefits of Marriage?" marriage is positively associated with "better outcomes for children under most circumstances," higher earnings for adult men, and "being married and being in a satisfying marriage are positively associated with health and negatively associated with mortality." In other words, a good marriage is associated with a higher income, a longer, healthier life and better-adjusted kids.
A word of caution, though: As with any social scientific study, it’s important not to confuse correlation with causation. In other words, just because married folks are healthier than single people, it doesn’t mean that marriage is causing the health gains. It could just be that healthier people are more likely to be married.
Counterpoint: Don’t Marry A Lazy Man
Studies aside, modern marriage is a two way street. Men should own up to their responsibilities, too.
Girlfriends: A word of advice. Ask your man the following question: When was the last time you learned something useful, either at home or work?
If the last new skill your guy learned was how to tie his shoes in the second grade, dump him. If he can pick up new ideas faster than your puppy, you’ve got a winner.
I’m not usually a fan of dipstick tests, particularly when it comes to marriage and relationships. But a downright frightening story written by my colleague, Michael Noer, on our Web site today drove me to it. According to the experts cited by Michael, marrying a "career girl" seems to lead to a fate worse than tangling with a hungry cougar.
OK, call me a cougar. I’ve been working since the day I graduated from college 20-odd years ago. I have two grade-school-aged children. Work definitely takes up more than 35 hours a week for me. Thankfully, I do seem to make more than $30,000. All of which, according to Michael, should make me a wretched wife.
In spite of those dangerous statistics, my husband and I are about to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. You’ll see us snuggling at a mountain-winery concert this month, enjoying the occasion. I don’t think I’m all that unusual–so it seemed like a good time to test Michael’s grim assertions.
The experts cited in his story think that professional women are more likely to get divorced, to cheat and to be grumpy about either having kids or not having them. But rather than rush to blame the woman, let’s not overlook the other key variable: What is the guy doing?
Take, for instance, the claim that professional women are more likely to get divorced, because they’re more likely to meet someone in the workforce who will be "more attractive" than that old squashed-couch hubby at home.
Women have faced this kind of competition squarely for years. Say you marry your college heartthrob. Ten years later, he’s working with some good-looking gals–nymphets just out of college, or the more sophisticated types who spent two years building houses in Africa before they went to Stanford Business School. What do you do? A: Stay home, whine and eat chocolate B: Take up rock climbing, read interesting books and continue to develop that interesting personality he fell in love with in the first place.
Note to guys: Start by going to the gym. Then try some new music. Or a book. Or a movie. Keep connected to the rest of the world. You’ll win–and so will your marriage.
There is, of course, the continual dilemma of who does the work around the house. But if both spouses are working, guess what? They’ve got enough income to hire someone else to fold laundry, mop floors, etc.
Money is a problem? Honestly, the times money has been the biggest problem for us have been when we were short of it–not when one of us is earning more than the other. When we have enough to pay the bills, have some fun and save a bit, seems like the rules of pre-school should take over: Play nice, be fair and take turns.
In two-career couples, Michael frets, there’s less specialization in the marriage, so supposedly the union becomes less useful to either party. Look more closely, Mike! Any long-running marriage is packed full of carefully developed–and charmingly offsetting–areas of expertise.
For us, the list starts with taxes, vacation planning and investment management. My husband likes that stuff, and it leaves me yawning. Bless him for doing it. Give me the wireless Internet system, the garden or just about any routine home repairs and I’m suddenly the savant. Tear us apart, and we’d both be pitiful idiots trying to learn unfamiliar routines.
Michael is right that longer work hours force two-career couples to try harder to clear out blocks of family time. When we do, though, we get to enjoy a lot more. We understand each other’s career jokes and frustrations. We’re better sounding boards on what to do next. And at dinner parties, we actually like to be seated at the same table.
The essence of a good marriage, it seems to me, is that both people have to learn to change and keep on adapting. Children bring tons of change. Mothers encounter it first during the nine months of pregnancy, starting with changing body dimensions. But fathers have to learn to adapt, too, by learning to help care for children, to take charge of new aspects of a household, to adapt as the mothers change.
So guys, if you’re game for an exciting life, go ahead and marry a professional gal.